Monday, June 2, 2008

on a DIY day that started glumly, and progressively improved.

If accounting makes me feel like a fat man going uphill on a children's bicycle, then DIY distribution,inventory and books-on-consignment make me feel like a fat man with no legs running a 200-metre dash, rife with hurdles and a full bladder.

I'm Five books into this self-publishing miasma now, and today I concluded that if i don't figure out some consistent method for recording what books are where and how much and whatnot, well, it'll be a whole lot of wasted effort even making them, as they are not much more than dust-bunny gatherers here at my humble home.

So today was about stef-ministratory prowess in packaging and distributing my wares, then recording it all properly for "profit" and posterity. Dear reader(s), since you have paid my blog a little visit, you get to hear about it.

For those of you who may not realize, the process of self-publishing is a tedious and involved one.
After you've spent 200 hours or so (if you are OCD about it, like i am) conceiving, drawing, scanning, color-correcting, and pre-press approval'ing your book, you bring said little paper-babies in to purveyors of like-minded goods to sell them.

You try to act nonchalant, like you're totally cool with the fact that they will be tucked into a milk-crate on a back shelf somewhere, and one may get sold to some customer who found them by accident, 'coz s/he thought s/he had found a cheap score in a carefully hidden smut section.

But really you feel Glum. And perhaps a bit cheated, in that amorphous way that fantasy always evolves when it's actualized.

Charging 8$ seems brilliant (and certainly beats the $6 i was charging for the first book of this series), until you realize that the print-run of 350 has cost you $1200, making each book $3.42, and the average consignment fee is 40% of the purchase price (another $3.20), so your "profit" from the whole venture will be a resounding $1.38 per book.

And YES, you are not doing it for profit, ladies and gentlemen, yes yes, but a little bit of pay-back equilibrium would warm up those cold nights where you burn bills by the candlelight and hope the collection agencies have lost your number.
At book fairs you get to keep your consignment fee, but this at the price of malevolent glares by bargain hunters who can't fathom why you would charge $8 for what could be construed as a rather elaborate looking brochure.

And then, four books in, for some wonderful inexplicable reason, they actually start disappearing off the shelves and you need to check in and replenish. Printing them has become easier, and the people at the printing house pity you and run off an extra couple of hundred copies, should you ever feel the temptation to carpet-bomb the city with them. They have contests in the office to see which one of them can figure out what your storybook is about. And they are SO SO nice about deadlines, little changes, and ensuring your colour-correction sees its way to press-perfection.

Then strangers approach you and ask if you would be interested in submitting work to their websites, magazines, etc. People write a column (!) on the project. People let you hang art in their windows. Proprietors stop greeting you with a kind, apologetic tolerance, knowing that you are flogging a dead horse, and start greeting you cheerily and being super-accomodating, letting you leave more than the token 5 copies, as they will actually not be gathering too much dust (hopefully) before someone claims them at the cash register.

It took me about three hours to unravel a list of numbers and dates and venues and book-names from the past two years, but finally i think i have a grasp of the inevitable pattern of consignment-book selling, in one highly-neurotic OCD-rampant spreadsheet. Another hour and a half later I had bagged a pile of TeaTimes with enclosed labelled postcards advertising the sequel, then, having given up on finding my previous pile of consignment receipts, set out on my dear trusty bicycle.

I approached each shop with my ever-familiar sense of sheepish dread, which i was kindly asked to check at the door as almost (almost) every proprietor or consignment person most gloriously greeted me, carefully took my books, complimented me on them, and assured me that they were selling. That ever-niggling concern that my work is odd and inscrutable was replaced by the assurance that few people taking it to sell really worry too much; "different strokes for different folks" seems to be the modus operandi in this trade.

Dear readers and aspiring DIY bookmakers, today I left 51 books at 9 assorted venues around the city. And for the very first time since starting this whole process almost two years ago, I actually felt Good about it.

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