When Colleen and I started JaCol Publishing, I had no idea what the industry offered outside of the Big Five, independents, and vanities. I had been a union editor/writer in Los Angeles/Hollywood for twenty years and had worked with some of the best writers the industry had to offer. My first client was me. I needed to learn how to navigate publishing—and I didn’t use a print on demand platform when I first started, but rather full runs—so I learned about the publishing world and where the pitfalls to that industry are.
The printing company only did runs of 100 books, no exceptions. So for me to sell as an independent author at book fairs or independent book stores, I had to pay for the print cost of 100 books and THREE ISBNs—one for the physical copy, one for the file, and one for e-doc. Of course by buying my ISBNs from the printer, I paid a service fee. Although I control full profit for the books, which was great, paying for 100 books, even at print, ISBN, and shipping cost is expensive.
I run a writers’ group and came across a lot of writers who wanted to get published. Many needed real work on their manuscripts. They had technical and creative flaws that would never pass the muster test with any publisher who was worth their weight in salt. I was on an extended sick leave from work, and I wondered what I’d do when one of the writers asked what fee I’d charge to edit their book beyond the Xs and Os. I made a good salary as an editor; I doubted they could afford me. However, I gave away a lot of free editing anyway, so I applied the standard rate for professional editing of 3 cents per word but added creative editing as one of the benefits, and although it won’t make me rich doing that, it is rewarding seeing a book come alive.
After editing that first manuscript, I saw my author go out and self publish, make it to Amazon’s best seller list, and garner two mystery awards. So I had an idea. How could I include other authors to my label? My first foray was a series of books called the FOUR series. I took four self published authors, had them write essays about their lives. From childhood to adulthood, from pain to joy, and even what compelled them to write, we pieced together a nifty collection of introduction books.
Simply put, I started those books because of the 100 run requirement from my printer. Dividing the printing and ISBN cost over four authors made it far more manageable. They could all buy 25 books to sell on their own and recoup all costs and then some. The books were only 60k in length, so each author was responsible for 15k of essays, and they were responsible to pay my editing, which I cut the rate on. That first book surprised me because those authors wound up buying 50 books each for a run of 200 from the printer. They would be printed under the JaCol label, and to this day, any author who buys a run, keeps all the profit—100% (Note: because I use two different printers now, an author can buy any number of books and isn’t required to buy 100.)
Selling the books was relatively easy. I had my connections and they had their family and friends. The books sold for 19.95, and the authors made 1,000.00 after selling 50 books, which they did, and which two of them came back and bought an additional 100 books. Those who bought the 50 wound up netting about 200.00 when it was over. Those that came back and bought another 100, netted an additional 1300.00
I thought the model worked. I strongly urged every author I edited, and who chose JaCol Publishing as their publisher, to buy 100 books. They deserved to net every dime from books in their possession. After all, I was an editor who made his earning as an editor.
However, no book would come through JaCol without my editing, and that was, and still is, non negotiable. Because I have a group of writers and a class I teach, I don’t have to accept anything I’m not comfortable with and that keeps a healthy standard that I’ve set.
The big RESET!
After I started publishing more than the FOUR series, and got into actual novels, someone outside my circle passed on the dreaded six letter word…VANITY!
What had I done? I was accused of forcing my authors to buy 100 books—TO SPEND MONEY. In all fairness, when you buy 100 books and get all the profit, and JaCol Publishing isn’t making a dime, I question the “vanity” to that model, but so be it. I was also accused of charging for the editing, and I will defend that. I am an editing service with the willingness to publish my client if they can’t find a publisher. I treat JaCol like a ‘collective’ of authors I’ve editing through my editing service, and together we help each other in a co-op of writers under one umbrella.
Because of a client overseas—one who wanted to buy 100 books—I discovered that my printer was limited to North America because shipping overseas would cost more than printing the books. I was about to reset the business model. I found an international Print on Demand (POD) that would print any number of books, from one to infinity (prohibitive shipping costs comes into play with only a few books though).
This became the biggest shift in the model. I still “think” it is worth an author to buy books, and I still offer them at print/shipping cost, and I still give them 100% profit. However with a POD, I don’t hard sell the author on buying their own books. I can go into the reasons why having more books on the market is like having billboards out there, and I can point out that actually netting more than you spent is worth it, but I let the author make that decision, because some decisions are based on the finances authors have at the moment. Also, authors can now buy 25 books and not have a prohibitive shipping cost. So if an author does want to carry a few books for full profit, they can. (I have multiple contract breakdowns, and Jacol Publishing only takes a percentage of material purchased directly from JaCol and a percentage off of Kindle and Amazon. I’m ‘negotiable’ on how an author would like to structure their contract.)
JaCol Publishing grows as I edit more books. My authors are well reviewed and can give you a full account of how I work and if I’m worth every penny spent. I co-op the writers, we are a team, not clients to JaCol. I know my authors, and many I consider friends. We purchased our own ISBNs in bulk which took the cost down to a reasonable cost. We play with our Amazon account much more and do the promos necessary to expand our brand. We have a creative team for covers, we have an online team who searches to optimize the JaCol Publishing presence, we have web team; and we have a technical team to make sure we keep uniformity across the board.
Mostly, JaCol Publishing authors have bonded with me. They know me and I know them. We have worked through the painstakingly arduous process of creating a book they can be proud of.