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How to make a bit of money as a book author in PNG

Jordan Dean
Jordan Dean provides some good practical advice on how to publish your book in Papua New Guinea

JORDAN DEAN

PORT MORESBY - Self-publishing is a blessing for Papua New Guinean writers. But, while CreateSpace and Amazon Kindle have eased our publishing woes, there are some downsides.

Many PNG authors lack the business acumen and haven’t sold a single copy of their books on Amazon.

Writing tends to be a solitary endeavour, but marketing (selling) and communicating with potential readers, is a social process.

It requires you to put your book out there for the world to see - and hopefully buy.

After selling over 500 copies of my five books (including donating copies to book drives and libraries around the country), I am far from been a New York Times best seller, so I am not claiming to be a publishing expert.

But there are some insights I’ve learnt over the years. I’ll share a few of them here.

Edit your book several times and have one or two of your friends read and critique it. (You’ll know what good friends they are when they do this.) Then take their comments on board and review what you’ve written.

Next, find a good publisher who will proofread and format your book to give it a professional look. (You might even think of using my publishing company, JDT Publications – see here and here.)

You’ll also need a beautiful book cover so people will notice your book, pick it up, open it and buy it. Then read your book and recommend it to others.

I am fortunate to have friends who are artists, photographers, illustrators and models who are more than happy to grace my book covers.

I just buy them lunch or give them a few bucks and complimentary copies in return for their photographs or illustrations. Of course, it takes a fair amount of work and money to publish a professional looking book but it’s worth the effort if you want it to sell.

My own Wantok Publishing Package costs K350 which includes copy editing, proofreading and publishing with five complimentary copies for the author. How much do I earn from that? From the K350, I order five copies for the author which costs around K250. I am left with less than K100 for my buai and cigarettes.

So for sitting up late at night for a week or two (sometimes even a month) working on a 200-page book, I am paid only K100! I can understand why Pukpuk Publications stopped publishing.

The first form of marketing for self-published authors is to have a book review. Getting an honest review of your book will help your book be seen by readers who may be interested to read it.

Thank you PNG Attitude for reviewing a lot of our books. However, having a beautiful review done by Keith Jackson, Phil Fitzpatrick, Ed Brumby or Michael Dom doesn’t equate to selling a hundred books on Amazon instantly!

Truth is we’re not Wilbur Smith or Danielle Steele to sell millions of copies. We’re self-published authors. That means that we’ll be self-promoting and self-marketing.

Social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) is to a large extent free, so utilise it to promote your books. It’s helpful when you have a lot of fans and followers on social media. There’s no dedicated bookshop that sells books by local authors in PNG. So you’ll have to market and distribute your own books.

Now, the million dollar question asked by a lot of authors. How much in royalties will I earn?

Truth is you can’t earn a living through writing in PNG. Profit has never been my motive for writing and publishing books. I do it because I love writing and would like to see our literature grow. So if you’re after money, find another publisher.

Francis Nii has already explained in PNG Attitude about royalties from Amazon.

Kindle Direct Publishing offers a fixed 60% royalty rate on paperbacks sold on Amazon marketplaces. Your royalty is 60% of your list price (royalty rate x list price - printing costs = royalty).

For example, if your book is a 150-page paperback with black and white interior its list price is $5 on Amazon might be about $US5. The printing cost would be $2.65 and your royalty for selling a copy is (0.60 x $5) - $2.65 = $0.35.

Amazon pays royalties when you reach $100. That means you’ll have to sell 286 copies of your book to reach $100. I set my list prices below $5 so readers in PNG with visa cards can afford a copy. Not all Papua New Guineans have visa cards so selling on Amazon is not the best option.

On the other hand, if you increase your list price to $10 on Amazon, then your royalty per copy sold will be $3.35. You only need to sell 30 copies before Amazon sends you a cheque or does an electronic transfer of $100 (K300).

I have a sales report of the more than 20 books I’ve published since 2016. None of the authors have sold over five copies on Amazon. I’ve managed to sell about 20 copies of my books on Amazon.

I refer people to Amazon to purchase my books but they don’t purchase online. However, when I order copies of my own books at the author’s price and post about it on Facebook, it sells out within a week. I hope to sell over a thousand copies by the end of this year.

So my advice to authors is not to waste your time relying on Amazon. Unless you have financial backing from corporate sponsors like the Crocodile Prize or My Walk to Equality anthologies, then you’ll be lucky to sell over a thousand copies.

Order your own books at the author’s price, which is only the printing cost ($2.65) and resell with a mark-up. Note, when you order at author’s price, it doesn’t count as a sale on Amazon.

If you order 100 copies of your book, it will you cost around K2,000. Then, you sell for K40 per copy, you’ll make K4,000 which is a profit of K2,000. That’s a 100% mark-up!

It’s really up to you. Waste your time referring people to Amazon for a lousy K300 royalty or make a K2,000 profit. I’ll leave that to the authors to decide.

Comments

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Jordan Dean

Phil, I've been paying customs for orders over K300. Another additional cost. I've tried to minimise costs by ordering my books on standard shipping but the books went missing. I now use priority shipping via DHL. It's the most reliable service.

Kenny, let me know when your manuscript is ready.

Kenny Pawa Ambaisi

Valid information, thank you Jordan

Your information truly complements what one of our senior authors, editors and self publishers, Francis Nii has written.

Thank you to both of you.

Philip Fitzpatrick

I've given the very same advice to potential authors too Jordan.

I mostly tried to make sure they understood the economics of publishing with KDP before we started getting the book ready for publication.

I also stressed that the sale and distribution of their books was largely up to them. If they weren't prepared to do the leg work in selling their own book the sales wouldn't come.

It wasn't the workload and lack of returns that killed Pukpuk. It was a decision by the Australian government to charge GST on items below $1,000 purchased online and the decision by Amazon not to cooperate and to refuse to send books to Australia (even though they still send books to other countries with value added taxes).

This meant I couldn't order author copies at the wholesale price and had to pay the whole retail cost. This defeated the whole rationale for using Amazon to publish books in Australia.

Luckily PNG doesn't charge GST on books that go there. As I understand it they technically should but the government is too disorganised to do it.

I think it is important to understand that Amazon is ruthless. It's main aim is profit. It says it is helping writers but really it is exploiting them. It will publish anything these days no matter how bad it is.

It pays its workers appalling rates and works them to the bone.

The creative team they had at CreateSpace helping authors was arbitrarily sacked when the move was made to KDP to save money. Along with them went the ability to create more appealing covers and layouts.

This is all standard practice for big companies where profit is king so you can't really blame Amazon for the way it operates.

All we can do is use them to our best advantage while expecting no favours.

I personally abhor the commercialisation of literature but that is unfortunately the way the world works.

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