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How to Publish Your Own Fantasy Novel

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Author Topic: How to Publish Your Own Fantasy Novel  (Read 798 times)
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« Reply #15 on: January 07, 2013, 11:02:23 pm »

Why is it so hard to get a fantasy novel published?
10 Jul

Most books within the fantasy genre are produced by a very few (big) publishing houses in the UK and USA. These are the houses that can afford to take the risk on large print runs because they have many other titles too. They also have significant advantages in economies of scale (cheap distribution, discounted printing, efficient representation to the stores). They produce a few fantasy titles (bad luck, authors) in big volume. Big volume is necessary for most kinds of book printing, but fantasy is the most critical, certainly within fiction.

The Riddler's Gift (First Tale of the Lifesong)Let’s see why. I’m a fantasy fan. I won’t buy a fantasy title unless it is (a) thicker than a doorstop (b) reasonably priced. I don’t buy hardcovers or large format (expensive) paperbacks – I look for that small fat little book which opens up to a world where I can get lost for days and days. The fatter the better.

So to sell, the fantasy book needs to be long, most often double or triple the length of the common novel. That means it costs almost three times the amount to produce. Remember, it’s not just printing we have to consider. Many aspects of the production are proportional to the page count: writing, editing, typography, proofreading as well as warehousing, freight and paper costs.

And yet, the average selling price for these books is very close to that of your mainstream fiction titles. So you’ve got a product which has a low selling price and a high cost price. The only way to get your cost per book down is to drive the size of the print run up.  Short runs or on-demand printing just don’t work when you’ve got a 650+ page book. How does a publisher know how many to print? With an established author, they can go straight away for an effficient print run size. With Mr Dark Debut? It’s a ****.

In a non-fiction niche market (for example, I wrote a guide for Paragliding in South Africa) you could sell a book a third of that size for twice the price because there is limited competition and the information has high value to a small number of people. In a mass market like fiction, even fantasy fiction, there are so many wonderful books out there which your title will compete with, and they dictate the price – as set by the mass market paperback produced in masses. That’s £7.99 thanks to Harper Collins, Penguin, et al. (and now thanks to Amazon, less than £5). So you can get your book all made up via Print On Demand services like CreateSpace, Lulu or Completely Novel, and still be out on the bench with a product that is more expensive than the competitors. If you’re hoping to sell through bookstores across the nation, you need to add the portion of the retail price you’ll lose in the supply chain. That will make your book at least 3 times more expensive than the competition. I don’t care how good your writing is, unless you can make me levitate in my chair I’m not going to buy your one sparkly title instead of three of the top fantasy authors’ new releases.

To combat this problem when I published my debut fantasy novel, I printed 5,000 copies. Was that the right number? I hoped so, but without any experience in the marketplace it was impossible to tell. If I printed fewer than 5,000, the books placed in the bookstore, competitively priced, would have made me no money at all. Truly. If I printed 2,000 copies and sold all of them through the bookstores I would have lost money, because the revenue collected would not have covered  the costs of  bookshop commissions, distribution, delivery, development and printing. I had to go big, or go home.

A key fact which would have been nice to know at the time was that the industry average annual sales per fantasy title in the small South African market was 135 copies. It’s about 800 copies per title in the UK. If that doesn’t stop you dead in your tracks, read it again. That’s for professionally distributed books selling through the stores. If you’re considering self-publishing, be prepared for a fraction of that number.

Let’s return to the fantasy publisher’s dilemma. You’ve written a debut fantasy novel. You want them to publish it. Let’s assume it’s well-written, as good as anything out there. So the publisher knows the most likely outcome is sales of less than 800 copies in the UK (because the authors on the high side of the average are the established authors with their advertising advantage, fan base and skill). The minimum efficient print run is upwards of 3,000 copies. Is it worth taking a chance on the new author, to (maybe) make (a little) money? When faced with this kind of ****, many publishing companies will decide to go for another kind of book. It may not be the quality of the writing they are rejecting, it’s the risk in playing this market. To the street-wise publishers, your fantasy novel might appear to be a dark hole into which you are inviting them to throw their money.

Only someone who believes in magic would try to publish fantasy.
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