October 23, 2013

The Real Cost of Self Publishing: Polly Letofsky

pollyBy Camilla Sterne

“The Real Cost of Self Publishing” is a monthly blog where we ask a self-publishing author to break down his or her expenses, in order to give others an idea of the costs involved in creating a successful book. Today, we talk to the exuberant Polly Letosfky, author of “3MPH: The Adventure of One Woman’s Walk Around the World.”

Letofsky’s book is a nonfiction memoir chronicling her walk around the world to raise breast cancer awareness. At 12 years old, Letofsky read an article in the paper about a man who had walked around the world. Intrigued by the fact that simply putting one foot in front of the other could transport a person across the planet, she began her own journey on August 1, 1999, at the age of 37. Letofsky headed west on a plane from Los Angeles to Auckland, walking across four continents, 22 countries, 14,000 plus miles, and through 29 pairs of shoes—  five years later she became the first woman to walk around the world.

At her father’s urging, Letofsky wrote a memoir recounting her journey. She decided upon a partner publisher who would take care of all the steps of publishing a book for a total of $15,000. Letofsky was to personally receive 1,500 copies of the book to sell. She was promised complete creative control and that no changes would be made without her consent.

But what initially seemed a good deal turned out to be a scheme that deprived her of all power and royalties. Letofsky’s book was hijacked both creatively and physically.  In the end, Letofsky was left with a few copies of her book and no trace of the publisher. Letofsky then made the decision to self-publish, and released her own version of “3MPH” on Feb. 1, 2011. The 134,000-word memoir has a matte cover and is 416 pages long with 16 pages of black-and-white photos.

“3MPH” has won multiple awards, including Best Memoir at the 2011 Colorado Independent Publishers Association’s Evvy Awards, Best Travel Memoir at the 2011 IPPY Book Awards and Best Memoir at the 2011 Writer’s Digest Annual Book Awards.

Letofsky has sold approximately 15,000 copies of her book, mostly in the paperback format, through her role as an inspirational speaker.

The Breakdown

After her partner-publishing fiasco, Letofsky wanted to re-publish her book on her own terms. She took all the classes; she read all the books. Letofsky wanted to do it right this time, and she decided not to cut any corners.

She had hired a graphic designer to create a one-of-a-kind cover even before she initially partner-published, and this is the cover she used on her second publishing venture. Letofsky wanted a fun and professional-looking cover, and she was willing to pay the price.

Cover design total: $750

The partner-publisher had dissected Letofsky’s book, taking out whole portions and depriving her of any interaction with the editor. She returned to her original manuscript and hired a new editor for a complete content.

Content editor total: $3,000

Letofsky also decided to redesign the interior of her book, which included a 16-page spread of black-and-white photos.

Interior design total: $1,100

Letofsky converted 3MPH to an ebook.

Ebook conversion total: $300

The author ordered a package of 10 ISBN numbers. She opted for the package of 10 because it would have cost her $125 to buy one and each kind of book requires a different ISBN (ie. paperback, hardcover, ebook).

ISBN total: $275

Letofsky also ordered a proof of her finished book.

Proof total: $25

Letofsky has ordered two shipments of 3,000 books which each cost her $5,000, plus $200 for shipping. She also ordered a 4,000 book shipment which cost $6,000, plus $300 for shipping (paid for by a sponsor). She paid $40 before the second shipment to make a minor change. All told,  Letofsky pays approximately $1.55 per book and sells her books for $20 each. The rest of her sales have been on Amazon, where the paperback books are priced at $19.95 (she receives $8.98 per sale) and the ebooks are $2.99 (she receives $1.89 per sale).

Book order total: $16,740

Letofsky spent money on miscellaneous marketing paraphernalia, including postcards, business cards, one-sheet library promos, and shipping charges to different publications. She praises the Internet for making marketing relatively easy and inexpensive. She also has a platform as a public speaker and credits this synergy between book sales and public speaking in improving both aspects of her business.

Marketing total to date: $1,000

The Bottom Line: Letofsky has spent roughly $23,190 on realizing and promoting the second, self-published version of 3MPH: The Adventure of One Woman’s Walk Around the World. However, much of that number can be attributed to book shipments. Not including Letofsky’s large book orders, she has spent $6,450 on the process of self-publishing 3MPH and has sold approximately 15,000 books.

Letofsky is adamant that other self-publishers not experience the same misfortune that she did initially. She is satisfied with where her book is now as a result of her own personal efforts, and offers the following advice to fellow self-publishers:

–Use the Internet as your primary means of marketing. “Don’t waste money sending your book to a million different publications,” she says.

–Do plentiful research before deciding upon the self-publishing professionals you choose to rely on. “You’ve really got to decipher the good from the bad in terms of publishing professionals,” she says.

–Print your book on-demand at first, in case there are any changes that need to be made.

–Consult a project manager before beginning the self-publishing process. “It’s good to get a project manager or a book coach, because it helps simplify the decision of (what service providers) to get involved with. A project manager can help you find the self-publishing assistance that suits your book,” she says.

Letofsky herself has become a book coach. Her website is www.mywordpub.com.

Have other authors taken different approaches in regard to cost? Absolutely. We’ll discover The Real Cost of Self Publishing from another author next month. Stay tuned! And if you’d like to share your self-publishing costs with us, either with your name associated or anonymously, please contact us at [email protected].

BlueInk Review offers credible and unbiased reviews of self-published books exclusively. Visit us at www.blueinkreview.com.

Camilla Sterne is a senior at the University of Denver, where she studies creative writing and media studies. She is a freelance writer at the Boulder Weekly, assistant lifestyles editor at the DU Clarion and BlueInk’s Summer 2013 Intern.


4 thoughts on “The Real Cost of Self Publishing: Polly Letofsky

  1. Michael Dolan says:

    Thank you Ms. Thorn and Ms. Letofsky each for so prompt and informative a reply to my question. That was most kind.

  2. Michael Dolan,
    I got that price because, yes, it was an offset printer and I did a print-run of 4000. (I only got that price for that particular run.) For my books in distribution I do use Createspace and it’s a very different story!

    I don’t recommend doing a big print-run unless you have a big platform of speaking, or if you have an order for that many — which I did — otherwise a short-run press or POD is far away the best way to go.

  3. Patti Thorn says:

    I believe that since she ordered such large quantities of her book with each order, she received a good rate. I will pass the question onto Ms. Letofsky.

  4. Michael Dolan says:

    Where does Ms. Letosfky get a 416-page book printed for $1.55 ? As an author of a 531-page novel that Bookbaby charges me $10 to print and distribute, and a local printer $8 just to print, I would very much LOVE to know. Assuming she used off-set printing, I don’t see that accounting for so large a discrepancy.

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