Edited screenshot from New Game! that depicts Kou Yamori holding a copy of Lauren Orsini's "Cosplay - The Fantasy World of Role-Play" book


My Cosplay Book Deal: By The Numbers

One day, I was offered a book deal and my life changed overnight.

Just kidding.

Even today, writers cling to the fossilized misbelief that books are the end-all-be-all of our careers. The problem is, nobody reads books. In 2023, only 54% of Americans read even one. Consequently, as a viral article made it clear this April, nobody actually buys books, either

I’m making a very likely guess that you, the person reading this article, did not buy my book. That’s because very few people did. I’m speculating, based on photos that people sent me of my book, Cosplay: The Fantasy World of Role Play, marked down to half price in the bargain bin at Barnes & Noble only a year after publication. I’m speculating, because I was often in the dark about what happened to this book after the final draft was out of my hands. 

Now, for the first time, I’m sharing the numbers. I didn’t ask the publisher for permission, but it doesn’t look like they exist anymore, so there’s that.

Normally, the nonfiction book writing process begins when you submit a book proposal to an agent. For Cosplay, I skipped all that; a publisher wrote to me, instead. As you may have guessed by the clunky title, I did not name this book myself. Carlton Publishing Group (now absorbed into Welbeck, owned by Hachette), had a concept for a book about cosplay and needed a writer. Somebody googled “cosplay writer,” and found me.

I instantly accepted their offer of $1,750: one-third up front, one-third on manuscript submission, and one-third at publication. In other words, I made about the same amount of money I would make for a long-form contracted reporting project, except it took a lot more work. 

I spent the next seven weeks putting the book together. Only half of the battle was writing the 10,000-word manuscript. It’s short because the book mostly consists of photography. I spent as much time reaching out to cosplayers and cosplay photographers as I did writing the chapters. Looking back at blog posts I wrote at the time, I tried to remind myself that this was “just a coffee table book!” in order to convince myself to submit my work for each weekly deadline.

Then, there was a whole lot of waiting around and doing nothing. Finally, at long last, my book came out in Spring 2015. It was in Barnes & Noble stores nationwide! Whenever somebody tweeted me a photo of my book at the store, I was thrilled. I signed some copies when I went to cons, but only on my own: there was no marketing budget for this book. 

And that was it, really. The book is out of print now. It didn’t make a lot of money or sell a lot, and nobody says to me, “Wait, are you Lauren, the author of Cosplay?” Most of all, the book doesn’t really reflect me, but a corporate desire to capitalize on the popularity of cosplay at the time. The last email I exchanged with my publisher about the book was about a potential French edition with edits to add “Finding Dory cosplay.”

I’m 99% certain this never materialized.

Just for contrast, I talked to my friend Ejen Chuang, the author of the self-published book Cosplay in America and Cosplay in America: Volume 2. He sold just about 5,000 copies of his books—impressive when you consider that 96% of traditionally published books sell fewer than 2,000

Cosplay in America definitely changed my life,” Ejen told me. “I had the opportunity to travel the country, meet cosplayers from coast to coast, and the chance to work on my own project. It gave me self-confidence. I learned about the fandom book market and gained valuable life experience.”

Getting a book deal didn’t change my life. But self-publishing a book changed Ejen’s. Any publisher would have been lucky to have him, but he took his work into his own hands and controlled every part of it. Knowing what I know now, I think he made the better choice. 

About the author

Lauren Orsini

Lauren Orsini is a writer and anime fan with bylines at the Washington Post, Forbes, Anime News Network, and others. She writes about careers in fandom on her personal blog, Otaku Journalist. She lives with her family just outside of Washington, DC.

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