So, I ran a Kickstarter for A Feast of Serendib. I was pretty sure it’d do well; I knew I had a lot of interest among friends and family, and I’d set a modest goal of $4000, which would be enough to cover my photography, graphic design, & layout. I was planning to do POD (print on demand), so I didn’t need to budget printing costs in advance; they’d be baked into the price of the individual books as they sold, along with packing / shipping costs.
$4000 wouldn’t really pay me for my time (and I only realized much, much later than when you’re writing a cookbook, the groceries that you use in recipe development are tax-deductible, gah — that would have saved me some significant money, oh well), but this book was a labor of love; I wanted a really good Sri Lankan American cookbook to exist, and there wasn’t one yet.
Well, we blew through that $4000 goal by the second day, and then it just kept going. In the end, the Kickstarter funded a month later at $16,548, with 367 backers, which is pretty darn awesome. But that left us with a big question — should we stick with POD, or try to do a print run?
I’m not going to go look up the nitty-gritty numbers now, so this is a bit hand-wavey, but in very rough terms, to print a big, full color, coffee table hardcover cookbook POD would have cost $20 / book for printing alone. (We’d only print as many as we sold, so we didn’t really need a big budget in advance for printing.) To do a print run, it would cost $10 / book.
So you might think — well, heck, Mary Anne. You obviously want to do a print run! That gets you a lot more profit / book.
But the thing is, there’s a minimum order to print runs, and in this case, it was 2000 copies. So we’d need $20,000 up front for the printing alone (and we still had a host of other costs). So say $25,000, of which we’d get a little under $15,000 (Kickstarter takes a cut) from the Kickstarter.
HOW MUCH DO YOU LOVE ME?
That’s when I had to sit down with Kevin and have a conversation. I’ve always run my writing business separately from our family income, and I haven’t really asked his input before, or asked if he was comfortable investing our family joint money.
There weren’t so many big decisions for the writing business — I wrote stories, I sold them, sometimes I went on research trips. Some years I made money, some years I lost money (filing a Schedule C for small business), but overall, it’d been on a fairly steady quiet upward trend for money coming in, with a few big spikes here and there, and if I lost money, well, I had a day job, so it wasn’t a big blip in our family joint income.
So I could’ve just gone along, as I had been. I could’ve printed Feast POD, using the Kickstarter money, and paid myself a decent chunk out of the extra, maybe $10K or so. Might’ve bought a new computer, or put some aside towards a trip to Sri Lanka.
GAMBLING WITH THE FAMILY SAVINGS
Or, we could gamble. Let’s say we print 2,000 copies at $10 each — $20K to print. If we sell all of them at full $40 / copy cost, that’s $80,000. Subtract out the $20K in printing costs, and another $5-$10K in design and distribution, you have $50,000 left. Now, you’re probably not selling them all at $40 / copy — bookstores typically get a 55% discount or thereabouts. And I ended up going with a hybrid publisher, Mascot, which handled distribution of the books that sold through Amazon and Ingram, and they would take a cut too. But still, I was projecting to definitely make more money with the print run — IF THEY ALL SOLD.
Could I sell 2000 copies? I was pretty sure I could, given the 367 Kickstarter backers (essentially pre-orders). So we crunched the numbers, talked it over, and I said I wanted to invest some of our joint family money in this. Kev agreed that it seemed reasonable, and even if we didn’t sell them all, we should at least break even, so I gave him a big hug and thanked him for believing in me (he’s a nice boy), and off we went to place the print run order.
The big hope, of course, was that the book would get enough buzz that it would go much bigger, and we’d need to go back for a second or third or fourth print run. I had visions of Costco picking it up for a holiday gift book, or Random House calling to say they wanted to pick it up and publish it.
WILL THEY LIKE IT?
When the early reviews started coming in, they were glowing — we had 5-stars across the board on Amazon, Publisher’s Weekly gave it a glowing starred review, and we even managed to get enough sales on launch day to have it qualify as an Amazon bestseller.
I launched Feast at FogCon where I was an Honored Guest that year, and people were exclaiming about how gorgeous it was — we’d paid for a professional graphic designer and it showed! If you’d asked me that weekend, I’d have been buzzing with hope and excitement.
But what’s that you say? That FogCon took place when? Early March 2020?
DON’T LAUNCH A BOOK AT THE START OF A PANDEMIC
(from the set of lessons I hope you never need)