SPS-259: How to Print Your Book All Over the World – with Jason Miletsky
For authors who tend to sell more print books than ebooks (children’s picture book authors, for example) there are options available in addition to print-on-demand. James talks to Jason Miletsky about his company that helps authors do print runs from China.
- An update on James’ book!
- How Jason got into publishing his own books and began working with printers in China
- How Jason’s daughter influenced him to begin writing and publishing
- Working with the same printing facilities that the big five publishers use
- On the shipping and customs issues encountered when printing in China
- How fulfillment works when you print a large quantity of books
- Why Jason makes it a priority to be invested in the careers of the authors who use his service
Resources mentioned in this episode:
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
IAPC: Jason’s website IAPCbooks.com
MERCH: Are you a ligneous beetle or a yawning hippopotamus? Get your SPF hoodies and t-shirts in the brand new SPF Store.
SPS-259: How to Print Your Book All Over the World - with Jason Miletsky
Speaker 1: On this edition of the Self-Publishing Show.
Jason Miletsky: It's been nice for me to know that, typically developmentally difficult kids can take something from it that's important, like friendship and perseverance, but that is still speaking in a positive hopeful way to people who actually do live this kind of a life.
Speaker 1: Publishing is changing. No more gatekeepers, no more barriers, no one standing between you and your readers. Do you want to make a living from your writing?
Join indie bestseller, Mark Dawson and first-time author, James Blatch as they shine a light on the secrets of self-publishing success. This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: Hello and welcome to a brand new year. It is New Year's Day, the day this podcast is being released, 2021, although we're in the past, you're in the future, which is exciting. We're still in 2020, everything's awful.
It's all going to be fantastic on January the 1st, 2021, isn't it Mark?
Mark Dawson: That's the dream. We'll see. Vaccines will be rolling out around the world, so I'm ready to volunteer my arm to be stabbed with a needle. Quite happy for that to happen.
James Blatch: Yes. I've had my flu jab, first time ever had the flu jab though.
Mark Dawson: I had mine this year.
James Blatch: You did, yeah. They're increasing that because they're trying to keep hospitals, obviously, empty. Yes. It has been horrendous. We won't do a proper look back at 2020 today, because clearly we're still in... It's like historians call the long 60s when they do the 1960s, they actually start mid-50s and end mid-70s, I think 2020 is going to be a long year that will extend into 2021. We'll come out of it at some point and then we'll do a proper look back at this whole period.
But gosh, yeah, we're still wrestling. Last night we're looking at demand for our second of final payment for a booking half term in February in Switzerland and you just don't know. If we pay it, do we get it back? And the kids are desperate to go, it's skiing. I had to write to the headmaster, what would happen if we kept the kids out for five days in quarantine?I just want it to be at an end, Mark. It's almost like it's not fun anymore, this pandemic.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. Well, it's coming, I think. I know what you mean. The jobs we have, it doesn't affect our jobs all that much, we write. I'm quite happy to come into the office here or work from home, it hasn't affected my professional life at all, but personal life. And also, for kids as well, older kids like yours not being able to go to school at a time of exams. And then small things like I've not been able to see Samuel's nativity play this year, so I had to watch that on video, which is great but it's not quite the same. And at their age, he'll only get one more and then he'll be... He's six at the moment, he'll be seven next year. He won't be doing nativity plays after that.
Grandparents, my dad's in hospital at the moment so I haven't been able to see dad for ages. When you think about it, obviously, we don't need to waffle on about the pandemic, there's more than enough of that. If people want to muse on what this year's been like, professionally, fine, personally, yeah. 2020 can do one, basically, as far as I'm concerned.
James Blatch: Yeah. We need it to come to an end. Okay.
Let's talk about writing things. I might give a little update on my writing actually. I'm feeling quite chipper today because I've had a bit of a breakthrough this week. So with the book where it was, pretty much written, copy-edited, ready to be published and then I had second thoughts after some feedback and my own instincts on it that it was far too long, 196,400 words.
Mark Dawson: Who told you that?
James Blatch: Far too long.
Mark Dawson: It reminds me of someone.
James Blatch: And also, probably that was symptomatic of there being other issues with it. So I had a developmental editor, who I got from Readsy, called Andrew Lowe, and Andrew read the book for me, gave me a really good breakdown, about half of the feedback is just a detailed description of what your book is and how it works in various forms. And then half of it is critical feedback on what needs to change. And then a couple of follow up calls with him.
The good news is that the story worked, he really liked the story, he liked the characters, he wasn't bothered about any of the character arcs or story arcs, all that stuff's been sorted out, which is what happened with Jennie.
But, the book was overwritten, tellingly leading the reader far too much by the hand, not trusting your reader to understand what's going on and come to their own conclusions, telling them what to think by basically having this internal dialogue all the time from characters. So you want to strip all that out and maybe just tighten a few things here and there, aspects of the story which you could have pulled out without there being much degradation to the overall thing.
I just got to a bit in the middle of the book where I was starting to make fairly big changes, not just taking out scenes or rewriting scenes, but not really sure what would happen in this particular week running up to a big moment in the book and yesterday I just spend a couple of hours reading back through the 10% leading up to that point, 20%, just sat there reading it in the afternoon. You've got to stop yourself making changes of course, and opening up the Scrivener project. There's a time just to read it. And then today worked through that.
And this morning I've been working since early rewriting that and I've got to the point, I think from the rest, from now onwards, the story is actually quite tight and it's fine from the action-inducing moment, so I'm feeling relieved and happy. I'm at a halfway point as well, 100,000 words in to the rewrite.
Mark Dawson: Goodness. I say, a good little tip if you're actually rereading something is to take it off the device that you write on and put it onto a Kindle. So I would recommend exporting it as a Word document using Vellum to turn it into a file for the Kindle and then read on the Kindle, because there isn't that much you could do to amend the text on the Kindle. You can highlight it if there's bits you want to come back to. And also just changing the way that you look at and interact with the story can be quite refreshing.
I'm working on a book at the moment and just in Scrivener all the time, sometimes it is very useful to take a step back and look at it in a different way and by changing the way that you actually read it, you can have a little bit of distance. That's what I recommend.
James Blatch: That's a good tip. Another thing I tried earlier in the story, I didn't think I'd have time to do it yesterday, I wanted to read it, but was to have it talked out loud by word so I did a couple of scenes earlier in this rewrite of just pacing around my office here listening to the computer read it out, which has also gave us a different perspective on it. And of course, reading it out loud yourself is... But that's more of a copy edit thing. That's sort of flow edit thing.
And in terms of your books, now funnily week, you've had your paperback published by Welbeck and put into shops and stores in the UK. And I said I would go into WHSmith in Huntingdon and have a look. Now, I only got around to doing it yesterday, and it wasn't there, but actually about-
Mark Dawson: Outrageous.
James Blatch: ... a third of the books weren't there. Yeah, the shelves were a bit empty. Some of the shops are struggling for stuff and Christmas present buying is happening at the moment and I think shops do look a bit bare at the moment, which is not surprising perhaps. Anyway, about a third of them.
So I had a chat with the woman there and I said, "Do you know, have you got a Mark Dawson book in?" She goes, "Oh, I can order that for you." "And actually," I said, "I don't really want it ordered actually, I just wanted to know, have you had it in, a paperback?" And she said, "It's over there." And she pointed over there and it wasn't there and I think it's... So anecdotally Mark, I think WHSmith in Huntingdon had your book and it sold out.
Mark Dawson: Oh, well that's good.
James Blatch: Which is good. Now, there were two LJ Ross's on the shelf there. Do you know, we haven't had Louise on for a while.
Do you know how she publishes her books and gets them into WHSmith?
Mark Dawson: I do. Yes. She works for a guy who I know a little bit too, who basically is a sales person for her and for other publishers, worked in publishing for a long time. And he'll go to the buyers and sell those books in.
James Blatch: Because I had a quick look in the front cover, in fact I bought three books for my dad who gets through books all the time, and I had a look at the cover and it seemed to be her publishing company that had published it.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. She prints them, or he helps her to print them, I think he can offer that as well. So she's responsible for the print runs, he then is responsible for getting them into the stores. So they'll be distribution, warehousing, all that kind of stuff.
That was what I was going to do, for the kids book. I'd had a good think about how I might get those books into stores and if Welbeck hadn't stepped up and offered to take care of the print, that's probably what I would have done. But, we do that a different way.
James Blatch: Yeah. Now, if you're looking into doing this, I mean it is... It's a system that's very well trodden, printing and distributing books in every country in the western world and beyond for centuries, however it is an expensive system, it's a logistically complicated system to operate by yourself. Here in the UK we have a couple of big historic printers, like Clays and St Ives who seem to print sort of every other book. And I've spoken to authors who phoned them up and said, "Can you print a book?"
Mark Dawson: Yeah. We've done that.
James Blatch: Yeah. And the costs are expensive.
Mark Dawson: Well, yes and no. Depends. Obviously the more you buy, the cheaper the per unit cost is, so I got quotes from Clays and CPI, which are one of the other ones, and CPI, the printers that Welbeck uses, and I could get the price down to about 80 pence per copy, and that was on a spend of about 5,000 to 6,000 pounds, something.
James Blatch: Okay, well that's good.
Mark Dawson: It wasn't unreasonable. And of course, we would have had to think quite hard about the sums, because if we were going to print the kids book ourselves then you're going to need to run off that many to get the unit price down to an acceptable level. But then you've got to think about, where do they go? Where are they warehoused? Do Gardeners take them? How do we get them into stores? How do we get buyers to become aware of them? So there are lots of things to bear in mind when it comes to that.
And you have to do the sums. At the moment, a 6.99 kids book, Print On Demand is what we're using right now, we'll switch over to Welbeck next year, but on a 6.99 book, we're looking at a margin of about two pounds. So, Amazon takes the print cost, they take 60% as their royalty, the fee that takes into account them shipping it and their cut. So you're not looking at a huge amount of profit per copy there, but I think it's, I did the sums a little while ago, and it wasn't that much of a difference between printing under Print On Demand and doing it yourself in terms of the amount that you make.
So given that Amazon takes care of all the bells and whistles, it's easy to do that. On the other hand, Print On Demand is still not quite as good as getting someone like Clays to print it. So it's a bit of a compromise on quality, potentially. So yeah, there's no slam dunk winner when you look at those two, you just have to make a decision, just something that's right for you.
James Blatch: And it's fluid, no doubt. And I think all organisations, like Gardeners and Clays will start to tune into the success and the books that are being sold in the indie sector and start to make that pathway a bit easier. There'll probably be some, I guess, intermediate companies, which draws us into today's interview, which is exactly about this area and one thing you can think, well if Clays and the big print organisations based in the US, for instance, are quite expensive to deal with, what about printing in the far east?
Which is where Jason Miletsky, today's interviewee, started looking and he's developed a little service that does exactly that and he has good relationships with these print houses in China, and he gets enough orders together, the unit price really, really drops down to make this a very viable option for people, particularly you mentioned your children's book. These books are primarily sold as print editions, which is a different thing from those who are selling novels, which are primarily sold and read as e-books, certainly in the indie sector. Okay, well look, let's listen to Jason, really interesting guy who's done a good job in building up this service. Let's hear about it, what it's all about and how you can get involved. Here is Jason.
Jason Miletsky, thank you very much indeed for joining us on the Self Publishing Show from Hackensack, New Jersey.
Jason Miletsky: My pleasure, thank you for having me on. I appreciate it.
James Blatch: I just wanted to say Hackensack, because I don't get to say words like that very often. It sounds like a great word. I have no idea what it means, it's someone's name presumably, was it?
Jason Miletsky: It's a great word, actually. If you watch enough movies, you'll hear it pop up every now and then. A lot of movies like to make fun of it for whatever reason.
James Blatch: Yeah. There you go. I can sort of understand that. Good, well, I'm sure it's a lovely place.
Now Jason, we're going to talk about a few things here, but I'm going to start off with a little bit of your background and you tell us what you're doing in publishing at the moment.
Jason Miletsky: Sure. So just to give a little bit of my background in terms of writing, when I graduated from college back in '94, I opened up a small advertising agency and that was just at the turn of when marketing was changing from drafting tables to Photoshop and that sort of thing. I started to teach myself how to use Photoshop, which back then was Photoshop 1.0 or 2.0, whatever it was, and for whatever reason, I don't know why, I'm not a huge computer person, but I just took to it pretty naturally.
I ended up becoming an Adobe certified Photoshop expert, I'm not even sure that's a thing any longer. Long story short, I ended up getting a phone call from Pearson Education asking me if I'd be interested in writing a book on how to use Photoshop. So my first book was traditionally published with Pearson. And I wrote three or four more with them on all different sorts of topics of graphic design.
My acquisitions editor left Pearson and went to Cengage, which is a division of Thomson Reuters, I believe. And I wrote eight more books through them. My agency grew, I started to write books on entrepreneurship, advertising, brand building, digital marketing, things like that. All traditionally published.
Now, I really enjoyed it, but there were very, very difficult books to write, 300, 400 pages at a time that had to be done very quickly in order to have some shelf life by the time they were printed and put out there into the world. And I got a point a few years back that I just didn't have another one of those books in me. They're just very draining to write and meanwhile, I was building my businesses.
So, eight years ago, I had a daughter, my first daughter, her name is Brea Paige, and she has cerebral palsy. So even though she's eight years old, she can't walk or talk yet. And super, super happy girl, really just a pleasant kid to be around, and one of the things that I think has helped her develop to the extent that she has has been that I would read books to her every night. And being a writer by nature, as I was reading her her books, I would start to critique some of the books that I was reading. All these traditionally published books that were written in rhyme, many of them just didn't rhyme at all, they were just horrible.
I started thinking about stories that I could write that would be better, and I started to research writing children's books. And as I started to research and I realised this was not going to be a situation in which publishers were going to come to me, I'd have to start from scratch, I started that process. As it turned out, I had a company at the time in Manhattan, literally right across the street from the Scholastic. I just walked into the Scholastic's office and asked to speak to an editor. And I was very close to signing a contract with them when I started doing the math in my head and I said, "You know what? I could probably do this better on my own." I understood the publishing business, I understood marketing, so I thought, let me do some work.
I started to recognise that the centre point of the publishing world is in China, that's where printing is done. That's where you can get books for the lowest possible price with the highest possible quality. So I studied printing there and I studied shipping. I know how to ship things back and I understood the international shipping aspects and all the different things that go into it. I started to understand the different sales avenues, particularly Amazon, and long story short, I put out my first book. I'm not sure if you mind me showing it.
James Blatch: Sure.
Jason Miletsky: My first children's book, Ricky, the Rock That Couldn't Roll. And this has gone on to sell 70,000 units, mostly through Amazon.
James Blatch: Wow.
Jason Miletsky: So, that was pretty good. And I parlayed that into larger printing, larger printings and a lot more titles, eight titles. And I started to build a following on Facebook of other independent authors who wanted to understand how I did that. And I said, "Look," I said, "if you're going to do it, you have to do it the right way. You've got to treat it like a business. And that means investing money, knowing how much money you're going to invest to begin with, what your expenses are going to be, what your potential revenue is going to be, what the cash flow is going to look like.
So you have all these things done in advance, and you have to give yourself the widest possible margin and that means printing in China. And you say that to a lot of people who want to independently publish a book and their eyes roll back in their head and they get this glassy look on their face because that scares them and the idea of shipping it scares them even more. And they say, "You know what? I don't want to deal with all that. I'm just going to go to IngramSpark, or some PoD company like Lulu or whatever else. And there's no possible way that you're going to make money that way. The unit costs are just way too high.
I started a company called the IAPC, the Independent Author's Publishing Collective, and I started to talk with publishing partners, printing partners in China. I've got a number of them. And basically I said, "Look, I'll bring you guys a large volume of books. I need you guys to cut me a break on price." And they all agreed. These are all printers that I vetted out. They all have contracts with Disney and Random House and the large publishing houses. They all have been in the business for about 10 years, they have in-house arts departments, they've got footprints at the major festivals and expos around the world.
And now when an author or publishing company comes to me and needs a price for 1,000, 2,000 books, I can give them the price, I can set up the shipping for them, we facilitate all that.
James Blatch: Wow. That's really, really interesting. And I think a lot of ears will have pricked up listening to that, because this is a frustration, I think, of Print on Demand, the price point when you have a paperback that you might be... The first in series you're selling at 1.99 and then the minimum price you can set it is something like $8 or whatever because of the printing. Cost, it doesn't really make marketing sense at that point, let alone trying to make money on later books in the series where you can be charging $16 or whatever.
Just before we get into the China stuff, which I really do want to get properly into and ask you some granular questions in that area, but let's go back to the book writing, because I am interested in the fact that you created this book. And this was a little bit of competition in you, reading other books thinking, "I reckon I could do this better."
How did you get to the point of writing the story? Where did you get the illustrator from and so on?
Jason Miletsky: When I was reading the book to my daughter, and I'll always read her very typical books. I read Pete the Cat and The Pout Pout Fish and all that. And some I liked and some not so much. But just as I've been involved in the cerebral palsy community and I've gotten to know other parents, I know that while I've always been fortunate enough to be able to take a very positive approach to it, I know there are a lot of parents who feel very despondent and very sad and lost because, you see your child suffering and having a difficult time and it's hard.
So I started to look into the books that were out there for and about this community, and to be honest, it started to make me a little angry. What I found was that all the books, most of the books that I was coming across were very depressing. And they were clearly not written for commercial purposes, they were clearly written by despondent parents who were just looking for an emotional outlet, but in doing so, they were creating a very depressing sort of a story. These were stories where either these kids could have a good life in their imagination, or they were just...
And I mean, I don't want my kid to have a good life in her imagination, I want her to have a great life period. And I wanted there to be some hope, and I wanted there to be some promise. Because I've seen my daughter, and she makes progress every day. Whether it's just learning a new sound or possible coming that little closer to taking a new step. There's always something that I can find that is a good thing every single day.
So I started to think about, how could I do that? And I also, in having a marketing background and understanding audiences and consumers, I know that if the reality, for better or worse, if you put a character on a cover that is in a wheelchair or in a gait trainer, no one's buying that book. People who are well mentally typical, they're not going to buy that book because it's scary and I understand that. People who live a life like I live, where you have a child who has that sort of life, that's not an escape from anything, you live that every day.
I started thinking, how could I send a message that was hopeful to these parents, but without being so heavy handed about it that it alienates the rest of the audience? And so I thought about a whole bunch of different kinds of characters, and I came up with this idea of, what if we had a whole bunch of rocks. And rocks are never really characters, you don't see characters that are rocks, which is interesting because there's always a point in every kid's life where they love space, they love dinosaurs, they love trucks, they love rocks. Rocks is always on that list.
So, I thought, what if I had a whole bunch of rocks that were round, but Ricky wasn't round and he couldn't roll because one side was flat? That's very metaphorical of my daughter, of being around a whole bunch of people who can all walk and she can't. Right? And as I started to put the story together, I realised, the rocks are metaphors for her doctors and her nurses and teachers and parents and therapists and family and teachers who help her every day. And in the story, they go through one thing after another of trying something that doesn't work.
The same way that we've tried every therapy on the planet, some of them don't work, some of them do. And the whole idea was that, in the end, Ricky has a... It starts to rain and they bring him down to a lake and they put some mud on top of him and they give him basically a mud prosthetic and then with this, he can then roll, almost like being in a wheelchair.
James Blatch: Yeah. Wow.
Jason Miletsky: But it sends that message without ever saying the word cerebral palsy, without ever showing a gait trainer. So people have really seemed to take to that book, without having any idea what it's actually about.
James Blatch: That's really lovely. And how important is that cognitive... Well, we know that books are very important in the development of children and of course, if you've got a child who's developing at a slightly different stage than, as you say, a typical development child, it's really important that your daughter and children like your daughter are stimulated and have that opportunity for cognitive development as life goes on.
I sort of feel sorry for people who've done it in a slightly clunky way that you describe as being typical of that, because I suspect there's very good meaning behind that, but-
Jason Miletsky: Absolutely.
James Blatch: ... but you've come up with a very subtle and brilliant way, I think, of doing that. Well done.
Jason Miletsky: Ah, thank you. It's interesting, when I go out to... Before live events were cancelled completely, I would go out to do a lot of school events and I would be speaking to 600, 700 kids in the cafe-gym-atorium and all the kids would be there and I'd read the story and I would ask them all, "What do you think the book is about?" And all the hands would go up and of course, someone would always say friendship, great. And then I'd ask, "What else is it about?" And more hands would go up and it was about perseverance or not giving up.
And then I would say, "What else is the book about?" And all the hands would be down, except you'd have one or two kids with their hands up and I would reach out to them and I'd say, "What do you think it's about?" And that one kid would say, "Does Ricky have a disability?" "Yes, let's talk about that." And that kid always had a brother or sister who also had cerebral palsy or something that kept them from walking.
So it's been nice for me to know that developmentally different kids can take something from it that's important, like friendship and perseverance, but that it's still speaking in a positive, hopeful way to people who actually do live this kind of a life.
James Blatch: Yeah. Well, there you go. So you've created your product and instead of going to Print on Demand on Amazon and having the margins that you're presented with there, you are going to the printers. And I think you know it, there's printers in the UK, Clay are probably the most famous in the UK, I'm sure they are in the States as well. Occasionally we speak to authors who do go down that route, but it's expensive and usually you're in a queue.
I don't think I realise or appreciated that the big publishers were using Chinese factories quite as prevalently as they are. But you tell me that that's the case.
Jason Miletsky: Well, in the UK, I don't like to speak to things that I don't know a lot about, and I don't know the market in the UK or even in other countries. I know that the UK market, from what I understand, for children's books especially is more of a softcover market, where in the US, it's much more of a hardcover market. So I'm not really sure, and I'm not really sure what the price points are there, or the margins in the UK.
In the US though, if you walk through a Barnes & Noble or really any bookstore and you look through any of the sections, especially that have coloured pages, such as children's books, cooking books, coffee table books, things like that, and you look at the copyright page, 85% of them are going to say, "Made in China." You'll have some that it will say that they're made in Korea, you'll have some that say made in the US, and typically those are by presses that are owned by Disney or by Random House, but most of those, they're still printing in China. Because, even though you could probably find other places in the world where it's even cheaper, such as India, you're not going to find a cheaper with the same quality and the same consistency.
China has built an amazing infrastructure for printing and if you are working with the right printers, you're going to find that you can pay a very, very low amount of money for a book without having to sacrifice the quality. I have books now that are in Target and Barnes & Noble and one of the reasons why that they have accepted my books is because the actual quality of them is so high.
James Blatch: As you say, produced in the same factories that are producing books for the big five.
Jason Miletsky: Exactly.
James Blatch: So, what sort of price are you paying for a book then? We're familiar perhaps with the PoD prices, people might not be so familiar with going to a printer here in the UK or mainstream.
Can you give us an idea of the type of saving you can make?
Jason Miletsky: Sure. It's always going to obviously depend on the size of your book, how many pages are going to be, what the paper weight is, what the quantity is, and like manufacturing in any industry, the higher the volume you print, the less you're going to pay per unit.
Now, I have some people who come to me, asking me for 500 units. And of course, I never want to do that, because the per unit price is just so high, and the only reason why I even offer that is because what I've found is that if I didn't offer 500 units, it wasn't like it was pushing authors or publishers to print 1,000, they just would go to IngramSpark where they really couldn't make any money at all, and I hate to see someone throwing money away. The whole idea here is, help these independent authors to actually make some money.
So, the prices can range anywhere from $1.50 per unit, to $4 per unit. And even at $4, that's probably less than half the price you're going to pay for a unit going through a PoD printer.
James Blatch: Definitely. So paperbacks would have a colour cover, that would be cream and black and white or whatever, and on the inside.
Jason Miletsky: No, I'm sorry, the price that I'm giving you are for hardcover books.
James Blatch: Hardcover. These are hardcover books. Okay.
Jason Miletsky: They're hardcover. For paperbacks, it's even a lot cheaper.
James Blatch: Right. But you also facilitate the printing of paperbacks?
Jason Miletsky: We do. We can do hardcovers, we can do paperbacks. We can do word books. We're hooked up with the printers that, not every printer has the ability to do board books, either logistically or legally, because the US market especially has very strict controls over board books, because there's got to be a small bit of rounding on the edges, on the corners. They don't want, kids can poke themselves in the eye, there can't be any lead in the ink because children eat these books.
So, all the printers that we work with, they're all printers that are certified that they can print these board books. But just typically, we don't even have board books on our website, because when someone comes to me with wanting to do a board book, I try to personally talk them out of it first. Board books are among the fastest-growing segment of the children's book section, which is great, however, they are the most expensive to print and they are the least expensive, they cost the least from the retail side.
So if you're selling them wholesale, you're looking at razor-thin margins. So unless you know for sure that you're going to be selling these books at a very high volume, you're not making nay money on it and again, I'm doing this because I really want to see independent authors be able to success.
James Blatch: So your minimum order, you say 500 is too small, is it? Did you say 1,000?
Jason Miletsky: I'd say, if you're putting 1,000, most likely you're going to be able to get a good sense of whether or not your book will sell at the right price, and what I mean by that is that if you're printing PoD, then you're most likely going to be charging $18.95 to $27 for a hardcover book and no one's going to buy your book at that price because it's just way too high. And you'll never really get a good sense of whether or not you're making if you can sell your book, whether there's any commercial PO.
So 1,000 books, my best assumption is that you'll be paying so much per unit, that you'll be able to break even or so, and get a sense of whether or not your book will sell at the proper price point. We're not really going to put a lot of money in your pocket, you're going to basically be walking in circles for the most part.
I'd say, once you start putting 2,000, 3,000 units, then you're in a zone where you can make a little bit of money. And then you start building 5,000, 10,000, you start being able to put a lot more dollars in your pocket.
James Blatch: And shipping? Presumably books can take up quite a bit of volume, can't they?
Jason Miletsky: They can. So shipping is the same, the more that we ship, the lower the price you're going to pay for shipping. And shipping can be anywhere from 45 cents per unit up to $1.25 per unit, again depending on the size of the book, the weight of the book, how many you're shipping. One of the issues that we came up with early on was that we'd have authors say to us, "Hey, listen, I want to print up 1,000 or 2,000 books, but I don't have any place to put them."
I cringe when I get someone telling me, "I'll bring them to my house and I'll put them in the basement." And it just, it makes me, like I said, it makes me cringe because these are paper, paper doesn't do well in humid places. Basements are not where you should be putting books. It doesn't take long for the books to start to yellow, start to curl. So I never like to see that happen.
Ultimately, what we did, was we started to get warehouse space and say, "Listen, if you don't have a place, a space in your home, we'll hold it in our warehouse space and we will do distribution for you. You send us your purchase orders, or where you want them sent, and we'll take care of it. We'll send it out."
So actually, a very new revelation. This is literally just happened today. I'll be signing a lease today. As we've grown and have more books coming to us, we have not only one warehouse space about 20 miles south of me, but I have little storage spaces in other areas to half manage the overflow. And I've been looking to consolidate them. So later on today, I'll be going into a town called Westwood, which is very near here, and I'll be signing a lease for a small, independent retail bookstore. It's temperature controlled and it's got all the space in the world for all of the books that we're holding.
Plus, I can have a retail area in the front where we won't be selling The Pout Pout Fish or Pete the Cat, we will be selling independent books. So, I think that's another benefit to it.
James Blatch: That's very cool. So the shipping cost, obviously the numbers you order, lower price and presumably, shipping.
If I ordered 2,000 paperbacks next week, could that be combined with some other orders you're getting for pallets and to reduce that cost when you fill up a container?
Jason Miletsky: Yes, so I mean, here's the thing, for us, we try to do that as much as we possibly can. We'll be able to bring the price down if we can combine everything. Now, a lot of the larger shipping companies will do that and your books will be combined with a shipment of electronics or cigarettes or razor blades.
We don't really like to do that too much, because what ends up happening is when you start to ship... We ship books, for the most part, customs leaves you alone. Once in a blue moon they'll want to check something up, but when you start shipping electronics and other things, you got a much great chance of it being held up with customs. And if customs sees something there they don't like, they send the whole container back. Well, they're going to send your books back along with it, and you really don't want that.
As we start to get bigger, we start to have more opportunities of combining shipments, and we'll say, "Okay, we've got four authors who are printing right now, let's try to make sure we are printing all of them at the same time so we can ship them at the same time. And that way, we can give a little bit of a discount on the shipping.
The question becomes, where are we shipping them to? It doesn't really help us out if we've got four authors who are shipping and one of them's shipping to Florida, one's shipping to Texas, one's shipping to Guam, that doesn't help us out very much. If they're all shipping to, let's say, our warehouse in New Jersey, well that's a different story, then we can definitely give you a price big on it.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Jason Miletsky: We're also looking for opportunities.
James Blatch: You mentioned customs, what is the situation importing printed books?
Jason Miletsky: So for right now, we actually really don't have any difficulties right now. We haven't actually, even through this whole COVID mess, we haven't had any real problems. When you start to hear that the supply chain is having difficulties shipping from China, you're watching CNBC or some programme about the Wall Street or whatever else, and they're talking about Gillette shipping 10 million razors. That supply chain is much more complicated than it is for us where we're printing a couple thousand books for an author, or even 10,000 books for an author. That really doesn't have that much of a difficulty, it's a pretty straightforward supply chain for us.
James Blatch: And they can be imported customs free?
Jason Miletsky: It depends on the type of books. As of right now, there are no tariffs on children's books. Now, if you were printing a cook book, there might be some tariffs. I think right now the tariffs are cancelled for all books. I'm not 100% about that, but I'm pretty sure. For a while before COVID, there was, on children's books, there was a 15% tariff, which even with 15%, you're still paying a lot less than you're paying with the US printer or PoD.
That then dropped to seven and a half percent, and then that dropped to 0% and there doesn't seem to be any danger right now of tariffs being implemented again, definitely I don't think at least until COVID is no longer much of a concern. They're not really trying to make life any more difficult for US manufacturers.
James Blatch: Yeah. And I guess obviously, I'm in the UK, so I'd have to look into the specific rules here that will vary from country, in fact they'll vary again next year when we have a new trade situation. Anyway, and what about actually then selling them? I personally use PoD and I don't even have experience using IngramSpark, people listening will have that. How easy would it, if I've got my e-book on KDP on my bookshelf, how easy is it for me to have physical books that I've printed?
How do I arrange fulfilment? How do I integrate it so it's there on the button when people are looking at my book?
Jason Miletsky: That's a great question, there are a number of different platforms on Amazon, you mentioned KDP so you're talking about Amazon. There are a number of different platforms on Amazon alone that you can look into. One of the ones that I've liked in the past that doesn't seem to be moving very much right now is a platform called Amazon Advantage. Amazon Advantage was strictly for content creators, that's been closed down to new... It still exists, but it's been closed down to new members for the last year and a half or so, although I'm starting to see some rumblings that people are getting into it now after a year or so wait on a list.
Now, my guess is that at some point it will come back, I'm just not sure when that is. In the meantime, there's also something called Amazon Seller Central. Now with Seller Central, you can sell your books as though you have a small store on Amazon. And you can choose to have them shipped one of two ways. You can either ship them yourself, or you can have them shipped to us called FBA, fulfilment by Amazon, which means you're going to send Amazon 100, 200 books, they're going to keep them on their shelves, and when a customer comes in and buys a book, they're going to ship them for you.
It's a little more expensive. If you don't want to do that and you want to have them shipped to yourself, let's say you're in the UK or you're on the other side of the country than we are, you have your books put into, say, out warehouse or there's other warehouses in the US, you use that as your headquarters. And basically, when a purchase order comes in, you just let us know that that purchase order is in and the warehouse takes the book off the shelf, puts it into an envelope, sends it out for you.
And that's basically all there is to it. I actually prefer that way, I think it's a little bit cheaper than using fulfilment by Amazon. Plus, FBA, Amazon won't allow you to put anything else into an envelope. Someone buys a book, they're putting that book into the envelope and that's it. When you're working, let's say, through yourself in your own living room or you're working through a warehouse or fulfilment centre like us, you can give us flyers that we can put in with the book.
I sell a few books on Seller Central and when I had the books fulfilled, I always put a sheet in saying, "Hey, if you like this book, you might also like these other five books that I've written. And by the way, if you're a teacher, why don't you look to me for an author visit?" I'll make $1,500 on an author visit and I've sold three or four author visits through those sheets alone. That's a lot more money than I'm making just on the books.
James Blatch: Yeah. That's interesting.
And in terms of the reader, when they're shopping, if you're using Seller Central or Amazon Advantage, when they go to buy your book, is the e-book and the print version, are they in the same place as they are with PoD?
Jason Miletsky: Yeah. Even if you get a hardcover printed from China, you can link all of them. All you need to do is actually just let Amazon know, "These three books need to be linked together." You can do all three. I'll typically launch a book on KDP before the book actually comes out, just because Amazon allows you five days to give it away for free. So I'll put it up on Kindle, on KDP, and I will use those five days to give the book out for free, just to get some early reviews. And then as soon as the hardcover comes out, I take the e-book down. Because I make a lot more money on the hardcover and I really don't want to give people the option to buy my book in a way that I'm going to make less money on it.
James Blatch: So, how's it going? How much customer have you got from authors?
Jason Miletsky: It's actually going quite well. We started about two and half years ago. I'd say, this time last year at the most, we had five clients at a time that we were doing. And right now, we have 16 customers that we are currently working on and we have probably 40 proposals that are out there in the universe, and I'd say at least half of them are probably a very high likelihood that they are going to come through.
We're growing very, very quickly. And again, obviously the quicker that we grow, we can also bring our prices down on both printing and shipping. Because the higher the volume, the lower the costs are for us as well. I'm never going to have this conversation with you from the deck of my yacht because of the money that we make on the IAPC. You look at us compared to, let's say, some of our competitors, like let's say Print Ninja for example, which Print Ninja has been around a lot longer than us and they're a solid company. They do the same thing that we do, printing and shipping from China.
And they also work with great printers. They've got great customer service, but they're more expensive than we are. And the best that I can figure is that the reason why that is, my guess is that they kind of assume that 90+% of everyone who prints through them will never have a second printing. They're not going to know how to sell their books, so they're never going to do a second printing. And my theory on it is, let's keep the costs down and maybe if we keep the costs down, these authors can then have some extra money to use on marketing, some paper clip marketing on Amazon, or Facebook, or Instagram, or reaching out to some influencers. Maybe they can sell their books and then if they sell their books, they'll come back for a second printing and the second printing they'll do 5,000 instead of 2,000, or 10,000 instead of 5,000.
So I'd rather take less money per printing and invest in these authors' futures and give them a real shot to make some money and expand their businesses out.
James Blatch: That's fantastic. So you're moving into, you say with the extra bit, the warehouse space, the shop, fulfilment, this is a little publishing empire, the sort of physical side of publishing for you.
Jason Miletsky: Well, empire might be a strong word. I would love and in my imagination it is an empire. In reality, it's still a small and growing business, but it's been doing very, very well. We've been able to help a lot of authors. I take a very personal approach to it. We have a group on Facebook that's got 30,000. I think it's probably the largest group on Facebook for independent children's book authors. We're trying now to expand out into cookbooks and other types of books, and not just children's books.
Every month or so, I will hold a Zoom brainstorming meeting, basically where I'm just saying to all the authors that have printed with us, "Listen, just jump on this call, there's no charge, and let's just all talk about marketing. If you're having a hard time selling your book, throw it out there. Maybe myself or some of the other authors might be able to give you some advice on how to sell more books."
And that's things I think the other companies don't really do. They take your files, they print them, and then they're done with you. I want to help see it through and give some ideas and advice on how can you sell your books? There's a lot more we can do here.
James Blatch: It makes perfect sense to be invested in the success of your clients, right? So they come back and print more books.
Jason Miletsky: Exactly. And also, I feel like I had a good amount of help when I was starting up my businesses, and I'm fortunate enough to be able to give advice and help others. If I didn't have the IAPC, I would be doing just fine just with the publishing arm of what I'm doing. My own books, I'm doing three new books every year.
But the IAPC, it's fun for me. It gives me a chance to really work with a lot of new authors and give them some real advice and I like seeing that they have a shot to put some money into their pocket and grow their own publishing empires. It also keeps them away from these vanity presses, which I have a real, real hard time with. I hate seeing someone get stuck with one of these guys.
James Blatch: Yeah. And there are a few of those around.
Where do people go to online? I'm just having a quick look if I can find it actually.
Jason Miletsky: So it's IAPC, Independent Authors' Publishing Collective, iapcbooks.com. And you go there, there's all the information you need about it. There's an online calculator so you can see, you can put in all the specs for the your book and you can see how much it would cost you for printing and for shipping to our warehouse in New Jersey. If you want a shipping price somewhere else, you just let us know the zip code and where you want it and we'll give you a custom price for that.
And we also, we always encourage people, look at our price, and then we have links over at Print Ninja. Go to Print Ninja also, put the same specs in there, if the price there for the same specs is cheaper, we'll match their price and take 10% off additionally from that. We always make sure we come in less than they are. Most of the time we come in less than they are anyway, but on the rare chance that we are actually more expensive, we'll match them and minus 10%.
James Blatch: That's interesting you mention about the vanity presses, because it's actually quite difficult for you and this website not to look like them, isn't it? Because they do kind of look, and be your own publisher and give us two and a half thousand dollars and we'll give you your five copies to get you going. And all that stuff.
Jason Miletsky: Ugh. I hate that.
James Blatch: Which is really annoying. But you've got a genuine service, genuinely an indie author trying to help other indie authors and yet, the language is quite difficult for you to differentiate yourself so people notice that.
Jason Miletsky: It is. I spend a lot of time telling people, "We are not a publisher. We don't want to be a publisher. We have no say over your creative. I don't even want to look at your creative before it goes to press, to be honest with you." We take no royalty, we do not get involved in sales. That's all you, you are your own publisher. I encourage everyone to open an LLC before they get started, you're not just an author, you are your own publishing company.
We are publishing services. That's different than being a publisher. What I have a hard time with with these vanity presses is that they will say that they are publishers and basically, what you're doing is you're paying $4,000, $5,000 basically for the right to tell people, "My publisher said." There's many people who will actually hear you say it.
These guys know that there is, unlike someone who wants to open a toaster manufacturing company, a book is someone's story, it's about their kids or about their puppies or it's about something that happened to them or it's about something creative in their mind, and people are very passionate about it and their dream is to find a publisher. Many people mistakenly think that if you can't find a traditional publisher, that indie publishing is kind of like the loser's way of doing it, and it's not. I did this by choice and this is the way to do it if you want to make money and really benefit from the work that you're doing.
But these vanity publishers know that there is a lot of emotional value in saying that, "I have a publisher." You don't have a publisher, you have a publishing services company that is charging you for every aspect of this and all you're able to do is pay them for the right to have a handful of books that you'll never, ever be able to make money on. We don't do that. We're not a publisher. We are a publishing service and we keep our prices low enough that you actually, I can show you the math that you can make some money on it. That's the difference.
James Blatch: That is a frustrating element to what's going on at the moment. It's good to have this conversation to draw that distinction.
What's the lead time for typically an author who comes to you in terms of having the books physically in the US?
Jason Miletsky: Typically we say it's about 28 days for printing and that includes getting a physical sample, if you are not happy with the physical sample, you get your deposit back. If you are, you let us know, we move forward the next step. And then the whole thing is about 28 days for printing including that sample.
Then, once it's printed, the shipping can take anywhere between 30 and 40 days, depending on where we're shipping it to. We're shipping it to the West Coast, obviously it's going to be a shorter trip than shipping it to the East Coast. But you're typically looking at maybe 65 days. You're looking at two and a half months, I'd say. It's rare that customs ever puts a hold on anything. If they do, you're looking at maybe another week. So I typically like to say to people, "Plan it for three months, and then you'll be happy when it comes in earlier." But, we're looking at two and a half to three months.
I think the hardest part is getting the files right the first time for the very first book. A lot of authors, they have an idea for a story, they can write confidently, they find an illustrator, just because someone illustrates does not necessarily mean they know how to set up files. So, a lot of times we'll find the files will come to us without bleed, or it's the wrong number of pages, or it's RGB instead of CMYK.
I do encourage people to find a production designer. If they can't find one, we'll help you out with that and we'll find a production designer for you. It just helps the process go a little bit faster. Typically, by the time you get to the second or third book, or second or third printing, it goes a lot more easily.
The other thing that I like to remind people is that when you print, let's say you print 5,000 books, I do also encourage people to get the funds up beforehand, do a Kickstarter, get some investors, I did both. I was able to raise $24,000 for my first book, $14,000 through Kickstarter, $10,000 through investors. And the reason why I wanted so much is because A, I wanted some money to, not only cover the first printing and shipping, but also I wanted to have some money for marketing. And I also recognised that with the three month lead time, you can't wait until your stock is completely depleted before going back to print again. You're going to need to print again when your inventory's down to, let's say, 60%. You're going to want to go back and print more because then, three months later, your inventory is going to be down to 20%. You don't want to run the risk of running out of stock.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Jason Miletsky: So, your cash flow is not likely to be up high enough for you to simply be able to afford a second printing based on the sales of that first printing. You need to have more. Like I tell everyone, for what I do, it's writing children's books, but it's not child's play.
James Blatch: Right.
Jason Miletsky: This is like running any business and any business you're going to want to have some cash reserves on hand for emergency purposes and to continue to build up your inventory.
James Blatch: It's a little glimpse into our friends in the traditional industry and what sort of logistical planning they have to do, and you're right, it isn't straightforward and especially if your book, for whatever reason, hits a seam of like an oil burst, is suddenly everyone's after it and recommendations, you don't want to suddenly have a two month gap, because that bubble may have burst by the time... And that does happen in the industry I think, sometimes they suddenly see a book flying off the shelf and they can't get it replenished quickly enough and they miss that opportunity. It used to happen in the record industry as well, missed number one.
Jason Miletsky: Yeah. All you need to do is have one influencer read your book who has a really large following and suddenly you're selling books a lot faster than you expected.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Jason Miletsky: I would always recommend to make sure that you plan this like a real business. You get your accountants, you create your spreadsheets, you plan everything out well in advance.
James Blatch: Well, you say it won't be an empire and we won't talk to you from the deck of your yacht, but Jeff Bezos started hawking books out of his garage, didn't he? And this is not too dissimilar, I mean it's obviously connected. Well, I'm excited by this. I think a lot of people will be very interested in it. I'm sure people will want to check that out at IP... We should say it again, iapcbooks.com.
I'm going to have a little play with the price quote thing, just to say what our paperbacks would come out that we're marketing at the moment. Just be interesting experience. And I think a friend of mine who used to be in the cardboard box industry and I talk to him occasionally about his business, I'm pretty certain he is now in the Amazon fulfilment business. He's around the corner from me, so that might even be a easy way of integrating that.
I'm really interested in it and I admire your entrepreneurial spirit, Jason.
Jason Miletsky: Thank you very much. I appreciate it. Being an entrepreneur is the closest thing I've ever had to taking drugs. It's a rush that you get from doing these things, so I enjoy all of it.
James Blatch: Yeah. Certainly. Well, we wish you all the best with your book and with your daughter, I'm sure she's in great hands and going to have a series of books to stimulate her.
Jason Miletsky: Thank you very much. I hope so too.
James Blatch: There you go, so it seems like every day, every week in our sector, things are changing and opening up.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. People identify problems or bottlenecks and then they develop solutions. Perhaps, they'll originally do something that helps them do something themselves. And then as they demonstrate that what they've done works, they'll then roll that out to others and maybe make a business out of that.
Hats off to Jason. It is clearly a pain point that indies will otherwise struggle to sort out and offering a service that allows them to do something like that at a good price is a really good idea. So good luck to him.
James Blatch: Yeah. So that's Jason Miletsky. Thank you very much indeed, Jason. So 1st of January, 2021, are you a New Year's resolution guy? I don't think you are, are you?
Mark Dawson: Not really, no. These things roll over, don't they? This year's going to be busy, there's load of things going on from professionally, we're buying some property this year, I've posted in the Facebook group a couple of weeks ago, as this goes out, we're hoping to buy the barn next to our house and turn that into a office space. So as this goes out, hopefully there'll have been some progress on there. We think we've bought a second house down on the coast as well, so that's all ticking off.
So yeah, tonnes going on, but I don't really get to the 1st of January and think, this is what I'm going to do this year. I've probably, hopefully already been doing it anyway, so it's just kind of more of the same is the plan.
James Blatch: Yeah. Well look, we'll talk about this a little bit more next week, because we'll be a few days away from the opening of Ads for Authors and there are a couple of new important additions to it, so brand new BookBub for Ads for Authors course, and a new and improved Amazon Ads for Authors course. They are currently, as we're speaking and recording this, currently very much in progress at the moment and they'll be rolled out as part of this Ads for Authors package. That's going to be open on the 13th of January, but we'll save a bit more of the detail about that for next week I think.
That's it. Happy New Year, Mark. Did you have a nice Christmas?
Mark Dawson: I hope so. As we record this, it's looking, I'll be driving to pick my mum up, driving her back again, and all depends on whether Boris in the UK allow... Whether Christmas is going to be going ahead as they've suggested. And we are talking, aren't we, about you've ordered some lateral flow tests for the company so we'll be able to test ourselves and our relatives to make sure that it's safe for us to have a Christmas lunch together.
James Blatch: Yeah. 15 minute results and I think they're probably going to be useful, fortunately, for months to come, just going on holiday, returning to school, that sort of thing. But we're going to see friends and family. Yes. Good. This is a bit like Tenet, though, isn't it? Because we haven't had Christmas, we're in the future talking about it. There should be two pathways here, or is it Bill and Ted's? That's more our level, isn't it? More Bill and Ted.
Mark Dawson: I was going to say, Ted Tenant.
James Blatch: Tenant? Tenant says it's like a lager.
Mark Dawson: Or someone you rent a room to.
James Blatch: Tenet.
Mark Dawson: See, I have ordered, I've got that at home in the study. I haven't seen that yet, and I love a David... David Dolan. I love a Christopher Nolan film so I'm certainly hoping to sit down with Mrs Dawson and watch that at some point.
James Blatch: It'd be interesting to know what you think about it, because I've got my views on Tenet. We can perhaps discuss that afterwards.
Mark Dawson: Oh dear.
James Blatch: We have just had a discussion about Mandalorian and you told me off.
Mark Dawson: But you don't like the Mandalorian, so your views are null and void as far as I'm concerned.
James Blatch: Listen, when it comes to Star Wars, you always have to remember, I was a 10 year old boy in 1977 and the romance associated with those first three films will never be touched again in everything that spills out of the Star Wars universe. I'm always going to be a slightly grumpy old man about later Star Wars stuff, but I will give Mandalorian more of a go.
Mark Dawson: The Mandalorian, you will like, if not, bad taste you have.
James Blatch: Yeah. Thank you. I loved Rogue One. Loved it. It's been the best thing that's come out of-
Mark Dawson: Yeah, Rogue One is fantastic.
James Blatch: ... Star Wars since the first three.
Mark Dawson: I think the Mandalorian will stand, is not quite as good as that, but it's certainly better than any of the other films.
James Blatch: Okay. We're at the official ramble point, so it's time for us to sign off. Thank you very much indeed for being with us 2020. It's an absolute delight. The only reason we sit in these seats every week and have our chat is because of you. So thank you so much indeed. And Happy New Year to you and great success in 2021. All that remains for me to say therefore, is it's a goodbye from him.
Mark Dawson: And a Happy New Year from me.
James Blatch: Goodbye.
Mark Dawson: Goodbye.
Speaker 1: Get show notes, the podcast archive, and free resources to boost your writing career at selfpublishingshow.com. Join our thriving Facebook group at selfpublishingshow.com/facebook. Support the show at patreon.com/selfpublishingshow. And join us next week for more help and inspiration so that you can make your mark as a successful indie author. Publishing is changing, so get your words into the world, and join the revolution with the Self Publishing Show.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.
Grab Your SPF Freebies!
Sign up to receive your SPF starter package, which includes a free 3 part video series on getting started with FB ads, and inspirational and educational weekly emails.