Indie Publishing: Check your page count!

I think I’m going to just have to add walking (most) clients through their royalty calculators to my interior print layout services.

Because what happens is I ask them, “How many pages do you want the interior to be, approximately?” and they say, “Oh, whatever looks good.”

This is a bad, bad idea.

Okay.  Let’s take this as an example.  You have a 120,000-word book.   (Here’s where the experienced people flinch, because they already know there are some painful choices to be made.)  You decide you want a 12-point font, because it’s important that your text be readable.  You tell your designer, “It’s important that my text be readable.”

Your designer, quite correctly, goes for a 12-point font (or something reasonable, which will depend on the font itself), multiplies that number by, oh, 1.5, and comes up with a good amound of space for the leading, that is, the space between the lines of text.  Single space is 1x the text size (so your text is 12-point text and your leading is 12-point spacing between lines).  Double space is 2x the text size (12-point text, 24-point leading).  Leading at 1.5 is a good starting place for this kind of thing–but the designer should be willing to change this, based on client input.  Designers, until they do all the interior formatting fiddly bits (and you should be approving the design before they start on those), are not married to a strict 1.5x font leading.

By following those guidelines, your designer could hand you off a book that’s over 450 pages in length, at a 6×9″ layout.

As a rule of thumb, you want to make about $2 each on lowest tier of royalties from your distributor.  Because we’re talking indie POD stuff here, your basic options are CreateSpace, Lightning Source International (LSI), and Lulu.  If I have time I’ll double back and look up the info for LSI and Lulu, but here’s the CreateSpace royalty calculator, which is what most of you are going to start out with.

Go take a look at it and plug in the numbers:  b/w interior, trim size 6×9″, number of pages 450.  You have to enter a cover price.  Let’s enter, oh, $9.99.

Those of you who know where I’m going with this, yes, you can snigger.

Enter the price and hit Calculate.

What you will see is that the Amazon royalty is -$.26, the eStore royalty is $1.74, and the expanded distribution (all other places other than Amazon or directly through CreateSpace) is -$2.26.  The number is also a negative in the pounds and euros fields.

Your good intentions plus the designer’s good intentions equals YOU WILL LOSE MONEY ON THIS BOOK.

Generally, you want to shoot for a profit of about $2 per book.  This means a) you make some money, and b) the BOOK SELLERS MAKE ENOUGH MONEY TO MAKE IT WORTH CARRYING YOUR BOOK.  The book sellers make a percentage of your cover price–usually around 40-50%.  If the book is priced too low, they won’t stock it.  Pfft.  They’re not selling books to be noble.  So don’t undercut your royalty by more than like 50 cents, or the booksellers won’t want it, either.

In order for this 450-page book to make $2, you have to price it between $19.99 and $20.99, which makes it a tough sell to readers, even in trade paperback size (6×9″).


Okay.  Let’s say you looked at those numbers and went back to your interior designer (before you finalized the design, mind you, because if you approved the design and let your designer do all the fiddly bits, you deserve to pay for the additional hours of formatting work over and above your original agreement) and said, “Look, 450 pages is too many.  Can you get me down to…350?”

As you can see if you go to the royalty calculator, if you can get the book down to 350 pages, then you can charge $16.99 for the book, which is slightly more reasonable (for a trade paperback).

Your designer should be able to do this.  They should be able to give you options for cutting over 20% of your page lengths, if they’re starting from a reasonably ideal text layout.  Now, if they start out by saying, “I know this is a long book and you’re going to want to save some pages, so I’ve condensed the layout a little,” then they may not be able to make another big cut to the pages.   I’m just saying that in most cases, there’s a lot of wiggle room.  They may have a hard time hitting an exact page count, but if you give them a range of 25 pages or so, they should be able to hit it.

However, this 120,000-word book will never be anything but a 120,000-word book, and when the text comes back, it will be much closer to single-spaced than it will be to a 1.5 leading, as I discussed above.  The margins may be smaller; blank pages may be removed; you may end up with less open space on your chapter pages.  In extreme cases, you may end up with just a chapter marker, with no separate chapter page at all.   You will still end up with a book that you have to charge more money for.  Because it’s a 120,000-word book.

As the publisher (dear indie publisher), it’s your responsibility to think about these things.   Don’t just say, “I trust you,” even if you have a good designer.  They may do a great job with the layout.  You could have the prettiest interior ever.  But if the page count might kill your sales, then ask your designer for help–ASAP.


10 thoughts on “Indie Publishing: Check your page count!”

  1. Great information! it’s great that you are sharing and informing for the folks who are just starting this indie publishing thing. This is some of that stuff that comes with experience and hopefully this will save some new authors a lot of extra time and grief. I love the way you go out of way to help others, Deanna.

  2. Great post! I hadn’t considered this part of POD. I’m still very new at all this and wouldn’t want to make this mistake out of plain old ignorance. cheers

  3. Great post, DeAnna. I’ll share this one and I agree with Lana, you have a vast knowledge base! Reading your posts clues me in on the things I didn’t know I didn’t know!

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