Beware the Impossible Book Project

by | Feb 19, 2018

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.

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Edwina Owens Elliott

    I kinda sorta made this mistake, producing a very expensive 10×10″ full color artbook. I really didn’t want to go over 30.00 for an asking price but I had to, just to break even. Of course, the more orders I get in, the less each book will cost to print so, I’ve really got to hustle my ass off to make this work. Thank goodness I was only looking to supplement my income with this venture. Otherwise I’d be up the creek.

  2. Carolf Stine

    Do you have a book on how to set up a blog, or do you recomment Yaro Starak?

    • Joel Friedlander

      Carolf, you can find many articles about blogging for authors here: Author Blogging 101 Articles although I don’t have a book on the subject.

      And yes, I highly recommend Yaro’s Blog Mastermind program, that’s how I got started. Here’s my link for his Blog Profits Blueprint, an amazing free ebook that will explain the whole process. (affiliate)

  3. Michael W. Perry

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

    How true! Even breaking that 800-page novel into four 200-page ones would be iffy to sell for $9.95 each, particularly given that you’ve now got to cover the costs of four covers rather than one. I generally find that, taking into account bookstore discounts, I need to price a 200-page book around $14.95 for publishing it to make sense. If they want cheaper than that, they can buy digital.

    There are a few tricks that will keep costs down while remaining attractive. Near the end, when I’ve got the final page breaks coming together, I do my best to have chapters end well down on a left-hand page. That reduces the page count and means each chapter can start on a right-hand page, which looks good. There will also gets rid of partially filled right-hand pages or blank left-hand pages, both of which look poor. I suspect some major publishers employ editors who do just that, particularly for books that are expected to sell well.

    Besides, if you’re writing is like mine it is always improved by a bit more brevity.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Michael, I couldn’t agree more about the salutary effects on my work of “writing shorter,” or aggressively pruning from one draft to the next.

  4. Bill Hines

    Joel, sorry to post here, but I love your book templates but nobody ever answers questions sent to the contact me page about them. Just bringing it to your attention. I’d like to buy more, but have questions.

    • Joel Friedlander


      Sorry you’re having trouble getting support, I’ve forwarded your inquiry to our support department and you will be hearing from them shortly.

  5. Ernie Zelinski

    Great advice. Problem is, the people who need to follow this advice most likely will reject it. Need I say more?

    • Joel Friedlander

      Ernie, unfortunately, I’m pretty sure you are correct. However, there’s a big audience out there, and author education is my top priority here, so on we go.



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