THE GARAGE SAILOR
Pricing, Proofs and Packaging – Part I
Thursday evening I signed off the seventh printer’s proof of my third novel The Garage Sailor. This after a first draft scribbled six or seven years ago and six or seven rewrites. So many corrections. It’s too late to start the story all over again, rewrite it. The moment to let it go has come. In a couple weeks I’ll break the champagne bottle, launch the book, wait and watch, see if it floats.
Meanwhile, now’s the time to fret and sweat. There must be an error in its pages, typographical or grammatical. There must be an inelegant sentence somewhere in the prose, a rhythm breaker. My unconfident voice of self-doubt has risen from a whisper to a scream. How do I arrive at a price point for what is surely the worst novel ever written in the entire literary history of humanity?
In general economic theory, a product is sold at a price which ensures that its replacement twin may be efficiently manufactured and brought to market. Discounting the intricacies involved in most commercial transactions, the terms of exchange are clear. Should I sell you item A for one dollar, your money must allow me to make another item A and shill it at the same price you paid. Seems simple enough.
The rule of thumb in the brave new world of DIY publishing is to settle upon a cover price that is triple the cost per unit. The math accounts for expensive incidentals beyond simply printing a book: cover art, internal formatting, proofs, corrections (and the time they take) and couriers. It’s an insane equation for an author like me who’s never sold well to begin with – but hey, those dizzy weeks for my first two novels on the Edmonton Journal’s Top Ten list, they can’t take that away from me – I’m too insignificant to realize any economies of scale; this is the reality for many writers.
The Garage Sailor’s cover price of $29.98 was arrived at after some research and a few post-midnight cigarettes with the neighbourhood’s nocturnal creatures, skunks mostly. I ultimately went with my instinct. That competitive number allowed for a slight return on investment and did not breach a potential reader’s psychological barrier of $30 for a 6”x9” trade paperback. As the plot revolves around a music fan, a man who collects vinyl, I thought there was some resonance with $29.98: about the cost of two issues of either of those biblical British music magazines, MOJO or Uncut, or one new single LP.
And that, I thought, is that. So my attention slowly turned toward a projected fourth novel, a light-hearted ‘Walter Mitty’ fable with elements of science fiction exploring the universe of cancer and death. Naturally there have been a few false starts and a couple of different working titles. Oh, a beginning, a middle and an end would be handy, whatever their order. Life has had a way of providing lessons to me about stuff I really didn’t care to know about; I’ve got to write it down.
But not yet. This morning over bowls of chewy coffee a good friend of mine, a voracious reader, an author himself, and a fellow who appreciates the arcane craft involved in producing an actual physical book, said to me, “There are so many wonderful books out there. How do you choose, how can you?” I said, “What are you reading now?” He replied, “John le Carre and that’s because we’ve talked about him and you seem to hold him in such high esteem. Otherwise…”