What it’s like to make books.

I’m here at Home Base in Tucson to make a suite of new pieces and parts (mostly in metal) and about 50 Treasure Boxes and 5 new kits, all to help pay the final press bills for the beautiful, transcendent Volume II of CGB.

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It’s such a beautiful book. It’s an honor to work for it.
And work for it I must.

If you are curious about making books…

I know that many people who make original work think about doing books. It’s easy enough and hard enough to produce one for a publisher (if one has a book in them, that is- you don’t find out until you try) but it’s significantly more challenging to do it alone. And there are trade-offs each way.

Publishers provide professional photographers and layout teams, and they get books in shops and on lists, but the writer is generally paid royalties of about a dollar a book. If that. And that’s after expenses. And after any advance has been deducted from their earnings on the work. An author who sells a million books can make a million dollars. Whee.

I prefer to control my content, do my own photography. And I am not going to sell a million books. Maybe 100,000 over time, if I’m very diligent to remain visible and my work remains relevant.

But… professionals make beautiful work, and once you hand it off to them you are finished, you can move on. I’ve worked for many years to be able to produce beauty too, and even at that I rely heavily on a team of really kind and clever volunteers to edit, proof, and to check my ideas as well as my words and captions.

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How it breaks down financially

If I do the work myself (and I do everything now except editing my own work, which is kind of impossible) I pay the costs, and retain the lion’s share of the cover price of the books.

Big distributors like Helby take 60% of cover, wholesale to shops is done at an even 50% split. Amazon, to warehouse, market, sell and ship (and take the hit if shipping or warehousing goes wrong) takes 22%. If I sell it myself, and have my assistant warehouse and ship, I pay 17% (13% to her and 4% to PayPal) but I am responsible for all errors, shipping or warehousing problems. If I sell, warehouse and ship myself I pay only the PayPal commission and the cost of the postcards and puzzle erasers I send along, and am responsible for everything.

The financial rewards of Doing It All (have you tried warehousing and shipping even a thousand books?) must be graphed with the risk and the work and the space and time demanded. I use all methods, and it works. I can travel; I have an acceptable level of risk. I make almost no money selling to distributors or wholesale, that is if I count the cost of my time, but I am well paid when I sell retail on my own.

So far, CGB has sold about 8000 books over the course of the project. That’s a lot of sales for an indy book (in fact it’s astounding, and I think just getting started) and a big enough stack of money (about $220,000) to do the job. It’s also a lot of responsibility.

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It’s difficult to know how to honestly account for money, overhead and time, but the actual costs to produce the two physical books, which are printed and bound in the USA, are around $90,000. My professional time on the job (about 8,000 hours), priced at $20 an hour (about minimum wage for a professional) would be $160,000, for a rough cost of $240,000.

After the dust has settled, I have as of this date $20,000 in press and production bills left to pay, and about 3000 books left on my shelves to sell. These books are mine free and clear; they represent a value of about $90,000, which is about two years of living wage for me.

To earn that money, though, I will have to reprint Volume II at my own expense (at a cost of about $15,000 a reprint run of 2500 books) before 2015 is out, because only about 1000 of the remaining books are the second volume, and it will be the one that sells fastest…

You can see how it goes. The project feeds me; it keeps me working, but there is no extra, and I must often pay before I am paid.  But for the work I do, I receive in return complete and total freedom, and the gift of constant improvement.

My skill set is very good now, and pre-order advances made it all possible. There is no way I could have funded the whole $240K on my own. I live hand-to-mouth, by choice.

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I have promised myself (and publicly, so I keep the promise) that I will NEVER take another advance for a work from my hands; this is an insane promise for a writer to make to herself, because all projects require funding. All writers must eat.

But the success of CGB was also the demise of my ability to fund through advances; I was harassed by the impatient contingent of the project for six months, as I wrangled a huge overrun in content and went over budget by 50% in time and money. The very success of the work was the difficulty. I needed every book order to pay the staggering bills for the larger runs; I could not simply do what I had in the past, and pro-actively refund the orders from the small but noisy contingent of impatient people. Nor could I fend off the people who presumed that for the price of a book, I belonged to them.

Had I been working on my own, this would not have happened, but of course had I been working on my own, the project would never have existed. It had to happen the way that it did.

There are something like 4000 hours of work in these 56 pieces alone; I photographed over 400 pieces for the project. Tens of thousands of hours of beading, thousands of hours of photography, of writing…

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The ideas filtered through everyone who participated; that’s why they are so richly developed.

It’s hard to give advice to people who wonder about making their own book. If you want to take it on, be sure you have a good team (friends, family, colleagues, all will be important to you) and that you are willing to work for your vision.

For me, work is a joy, even/especially when it’s hard.

If you are looking for a copy, buy the books in my web shop, here, or see a variety of my books on Amazon, at this link. Free shipping can be had on Amazon, if you are Prime, or spend over $50. I charge $6, and ship Priority Mail.

And keep an eye on my blog, the book’s Facebook page, or subscribe to the Book Blog, if you are interested in seeing the Treasure Boxes, kits and findings when they go up.


12 thoughts on “What it’s like to make books.

  1. I have to hand it to you. These books are an immense undertaking that I myself cannot even imagine prospecting an idea for. You have provided us all with so many ideas in which we can broaden our own creativity which we are all forevermore grateful to you and your passion. I have learned so much from you and only wish that I could give back to you what you have so selflessly given to all of us. You are an inspiration to all and someone I admire and respect.

  2. You’re a braver person than I. I much preferred watching the developments from the side lines, where the stress and screes of emails needing replies couldn’t touch me. I’m sorry for the impatient folks, they couldn’t possibly fathom the work involved. Besides, anticipation should be savoured. The wait saw that some fantastic OMG pieces, that would have missed out on an earlier print, got to be included. These books have boosted my ability a hundred-fold and opened my eyes to a new way of looking at threadpaths. I’m honored to have been able to contribute both in material and in pre-ordering. Thank you!

  3. I really feel a bit (a lot?!) sorry for the impatient ones, they are probably the ones who lack creativity and want someone else to do for them, and preferably NOW… many of them have likely dropped away by now, in their impatience. It’s their loss… Jenny Sangster’s comments are spot on… the creativity and inspiration during the process were so exciting; and the final paper book is everything it was meant and hoped to be, and more. Every page has something of interest and beauty, not to mention the creative stimulus. I’m anxious for the Pattern Library (partially because I am fiddling with an idea and if it works, will send it in), but as with both books, practice makes perfect and time mellows a great wine (or whisky!!). No cheap plonk for me… I’ll take the good stuff, thanks. Some folks just don’t understand that the creative process isn’t like going to the fast-food drive-through; it’s more like a fine dining experience, with a three-star Michelin chef… takes a bit more time and understanding perhaps, but in the end the result is sublime.

  4. Thank you! How can pre-ordering a book entitle someone to give the author grief or champ at the bit and complain? I find that really distasteful and rude. I was honored to find Vol. 1 rather late on. I received it for Christmas last year and read it from start to finish over my holiday in the mountains. I looked at it nearly every day for at least 6 months. It was a privilege to pre-order Vol. 2 and follow along with the excitement as it was being built and new pieces were being photographed and shared. Getting the poster was an event at my house and it hangs next to my desk, where I see it every day and am further inspired. To be even peripherally involved and part of a community around a book is so rare and special. The whole concept goes against the usual pattern. These books are HUGE and important, Kate. Strong work!


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