I never cease to be amazed at the literary skills (or lack of them) that some people possess while nonetheless thinking they're equipped to write a book and make a killing. It's not that I object to people seeking reasonable answers to intelligible questions. That's how we learn. But, I received this question the other day: "How many sales before a 275-page book shows a profit at $100 a copy?"
Naturally, it was too enticing a question to pass up; so, I didn't.
You didn't exactly give a whole lot of thought to this question, did you? I mean, first of all, what's your definition of "profit"? If you mean something so obtuse as to how many copies you'd have to sell to cover the time, sweat, and tears you spent in writing your book, I haven't a clue. The variables are too great. Nor do I have an inkling of the rate you ascribe to your hourly toils or how many weeks, months, or years you spent busting your butt.
Ahh, but I see now in reading between the lines that, since neither the book's total number of pages nor its oversized format would affect your bottom line, that must not be what you mean.
Perhaps, then, you mean how many books would your publisher need to sell at $100 a copy (which, for a trade book, is highly unlikely, although you never specify) for you to reap a profit excluding your time? The answer in that case, of course, is one. One sale, and you're in the black, aren't you? Since a conventional publisher pays all publication costs, you're on the positive side of the ledger from sale one.
Although you may mean, on the other hand, how many copies would your publisher have to sell for HIM to turn a profit in producing an oversized book of 275 pages at $100 a crack? In which case I'd have to say a lot. Considering the publisher's pre-print and production costs, there are a ton of expenses involved. From the advance against future royalties the publisher paid you through the editing, proofreading, interior formatting, cover acquisitions, cover formatting, interior and cover layout and design, copyright registration, pre-print, press, storage, shipping, and other miscellaneous charges, the variables are too great to consider from one part of the country to another, let alone from one country to the next.
But, say? Getting back to that advance the publisher paid you, it must have been pretty hefty if the book is going to sell for a C-note a pop. And with that kind of advance in your pocket, what do you care how many copies the publisher will have to sell for him to turn a profit? You reaped your reward before you ever finished writing the thing.
Bingo! I'd say it's time to celebrate. I'll meet you at the corner bar around eight. Your treat. And, if I'm running late, remember: I like my steaks rare.
Pretty clever, huh? Except, now that I've finished answering him, I'm beginning to wonder: Was that only a trick question? And, if so, am I ever going to see that steak?
D. J. Herda is author of the new eBook series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere.