Beware the Impossible Book Project

POSTED ON Feb 19, 2018

Joel Friedlander

Written by Joel Friedlander

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I’ve written before about “impossible books,” the books that will not work out the way you are imagining they will, once you get farther down the path toward publication in Are You Trying to Create an “Impossible” Book?

I explained in the article that some books can’t be easily or economically produced by self-publishers for technical reasons. For instance, it’s simply not possible to publish an 800-page novel via print on demand and set your retail price at $9.95.


Because the book will cost you over $11.00 to produce, while you’ll receive less than $6.00 when each book is sold.

At the end of the article I made a kind of plea to readers:

So do your planning wisely. If possible, talk to someone who has produced the kind of books you want to create, and who understands the realities of how books are made. They will give you some guidance early in your process.

That’s still good advice, and it came up again for me yesterday.

At the San Francisco Writer’s Conference

The San Francisco Writer’s Conference has been running the past few days, and I’ve done several presentations there. (Today I got to repeat a presentation on book formatting with Smashword‘s Mark Coker.)

Yesterday we had an extended “Ask a Pro” session in the main hall. Experts were set up each at our own large table with a perky sign with the expert’s name on it, all arranged in alphabetical order.

These short sessions (we were reminded to get moving every two minutes, but alas, I totally failed at that since I would get absorbed in an author’s publishing journey, and there’s just so much to talk about) sometimes turn into mini-consults.

For authors who are thinking about making the leap into self-publishing, these opportunities can be invaluable, and I have more than once steered an author away from what could turn out to be months of frustration, wasted time and money and, in the end, disillusionment with the whole publishing project.

One discussion with an author stood out because, the minute I heard this author’s plan, I knew he was in for a rude awakening, because what he envisioned was an “impossible” project.

This author had survived a harrowing decade of dependence, and had a powerful story to tell that could very well help save lives.

What’s more, he wanted to help support nonprofits who worked with the same population. He hit on the idea of giving 50 percent of the price of each book to these charities.

“Sorry to say, it’s impossible,” I said.


“It’s the realities of book discounting,” I replied.

I explained that the only scenario in which his plan would work would be if he only made the book available from his own site, at full retail price.

Otherwise, after allowing for the discount to retailers (typically a minimum of 40 percent of the retail price) and the cost to manufacture the books using the relatively expensive print on demand technology, he would be losing money on each book sold.

“Let me ask you,” I said, “does this sound familiar? ‘A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book will go to ___ charity.’?”


“The key word there is portion. Once you go through the numbers, and make sure you assure yourself you’ll make enough of a profit to keep publishing, I doubt you’ll be able to go much beyond 10 percent.

“And I applaud you for your altruism. Try to sell a lot of books, because that’s the way you’ll make the biggest impact, right?”

He smiled and agreed.

My suggestion for authors is pretty the same as it was when I last wrote about this topic. If you’re planning to publish a book that’s not a standard ebook or a simply fiction or nonfiction book that doesn’t require special binding, special paper, an odd format, high quality color reproduction, or any of the other things that you can’t do with print on demand, do yourself a favor.

Find a book professional and run your idea past them, it could save you a lot of frustration down the road.

Joel Friedlander

Written by
Joel Friedlander

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