It's been nine months since the launch of With a Little Help, and, as with most trade books, the action has slowed down. All in all, the book has earned me $2,231.23 over the summer and cost me $167.88 in costs.
Since I last checked in, I've sold a moderate number of print-on-demand books from Amazon (69), a small number from Lulu (14), and brought in a moderate stream of donations ($568 from 43 donors, equal to the royalties from about 280 paperbacks). I'm selling about one limited edition hardcover a month, and each one nets me about $160, depending on postage. The net income now stands at $17,146.46—better than I've earned from my other two short story collections combined. However, this one's been a lot more work!
In my last column, I wrote about some spontaneous interest from stores who had POD machines. I ended up with in-store distribution at New York's McNally-Jackson; the Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge, Mass.; the University of Washington bookstore in Seattle; the American Book Center in Amsterdam; and the University of Melbourne bookstore, in Australia. They're selling modestly: 45 copies from all five stores since June. I hear that customers love the experience of watching their personal copies being printed and bound, but with the high cost of POD, the amortization of the new machines, and labor, they're a lot more cost-effective for books that people are price-insensitive about—textbooks, for example. But some of that stuff will get cheaper as more stores get machines to compete with one another.
The "pay what you like" donations have held at an average median price of $10. The fact that this is exactly what Amazon wanted to price e-books at when the Kindle first emerged suggests that either e-book readers have been subconsciously persuaded that this is the right price for an e-book, or Amazon was right about the "natural price" for e-books—choose the answer that suits your ideology. The largest donation this summer was a whopping $100 from a very nice person. The smallest was $0.82, which was almost entirely absorbed by PayPal fees. It's possible that person is very nice, too—but that person is also a wisenheimer.
What's next? For some months, my PW editor, Andrew Albanese, has been telling me that I'm crazy not to pitch the book to libraries. He's right. Libraries love me, and it's mutual. I spend a lot of time touring libraries, I speak at ALA and several regional libraries, I lobby alongside professional librarian associations, and I worked at libraries through high school. So, yeah, I should be selling to libraries. But how?
I tapped Tor, the publisher of my novels, for advice. Throughout this experiment, Tor has been remarkably generous with advice and help, and this was no exception. Talia Sherer, Macmillan's library sales director, directed me to several librarians, and I tapped each of them. They were warm, and helpful, and blindingly organized about delivering advice.
The most important thing I learned? It costs libraries significant time and labor to set up accounts with new vendors. Even though Amazon can handle library orders, it's not widely used, and a library would have to really, really want With a Little Help on its shelves to go through the trouble of adding a new vendor. So if I wanted this book to show up in libraries, I'd have to sell it where librarians shop—somewhere like Ingram.
I spent all summer chasing down Ingram's print-on-demand program, Lightning Source. It's by far the most cumbersome of all the POD programs I've tried to set up. But after three months, Ingram has now listed the book in its catalogue. And I've just finished an interview with ALA's Booklist announcing the book's availability, and many librarians have offered to help spread the word through their mailing lists.
Meanwhile, life is moving on. I've just published two more books. PM Press honored me by featuring me in its Outspoken Authors series with a chapbook called The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow (which features a never-been-offered-for-sale novella, as well as two essays and an exclusive interview), and Tachyon's just published a new collection of my essays, called Context (a follow-up to my last collection, Content), which includes an introduction by the estimable Tim O'Reilly. I've also finished the edits on Pirate Cinema, my next YA novel, due out in 2012), and Charlie Stross and I have nailed down the first draft of a collaborative SF novel, Rapture of the Nerds.
Now it's time to write some more new stuff. I've embarked on two more projects: a graphic novel about copyright and a sequel to my YA novel Little Brother. I've never done a graphic novel before, nor a sequel. But as I've learned from With a Little Help, doing things for the first time is how you make really interesting mistakes.