Self-publishing can be a smart choice for writers. It's cost-effective, relatively fast, pays much better than standard royalty contracts, and lets you maintain control over the publishing process. But there are drawbacks to consider.
- Skill level:
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Things you need
- Samples from printers
- Book designer
- Competitor's books
Decide what your goal is. Some writers want to print out just enough copies of their prized project for colleagues and friends; others think they have a book that will sell to a larger audience.
Examine competing titles to make sure you're not covering the same ground. Find out what sales of those books have been to see if it's really worth your while to tackle a similar topic. Call book distributor Ingram at (615) 213-6803 and punch in the ISBN of the book you want to check on; you'll hear a voice message containing the number of copies sold in the last year.
Determine what format you'd like to publish in: hardcover, softcover, or ebook, which is essentially an electronic file and requires no paper printing.
Check out print-on-demand publishers. If all you want to do is get a book published, these vanity presses will do the job for a price. Some vanity houses will print just a few copies for a few hundred dollars. Print-on-demand is ideal for very short runs (25 to 500 copies). Instead of printing on traditional, ink-based offset printing equipment, pages are reproduced using a highend copier. A digital file from a page layout program links directly to a high-speed copier and then is machine-bound. Some shops offer perfect binding so it looks just like a printed book. Look at sources like Trafford.com, Xlibris.com and Iuniverse.com.
Print your book directly from your completed files with a directto- press printer. Instead of producing a different piece of film for each color of each page, the files are transferred directly to the printing plate. You'll eliminate all the film costs, and save time too.
Shop aggressively if you really want your book to sell. If you're an established writer considering self-publishing, look around. You can either choose to have a print-on-demand company, such as those mentioned above, handle all the layout, printing and production activities, or go to a local offset printer and oversee each of those steps in the process personally.
Ask potential suppliers to send you samples of their recently printed books. Don't be shocked: The quality will vary considerably with regard to paper quality, cover design, layout, and whether it was run on a sheet-fed press or a web press. Ask questions about how individual pieces were produced.
View competitors' books to determine what size and format you'd like your book to take. Find out if there are standard sizes you should stay with to reduce costs, or whether a different format will help your book stand out. Format sizes can affect which print-on-demand publisher you can work with.
Familiarize yourself with printing costs. These will vary, but you can expect to spend more than $1 per book for a minimum print run of several thousand copies. You may also be charged extra for layout help, editing, design of a book cover, and for photos. Typical fees are $3 to $6 per page for editing, $3 to $5 for production, $500 to $5,000 and more for design, plus $3 per 300- page book for printing.
Hire a designer with book experience (see How to Hire a Graphic Designer). He or she will design the type, flow the pages, and create a spectacular jacket as well. This is more expensive, in some cases considerably so, but the difference in creating a quality product is significant.
Tally up your costs, including printing, graphic design, artwork, photography, copy editing and other expenses. A traditional publishing house that buys your book would normally absorb these costs, but then again, you lose control.
Request an International Standard Book Number (ISBN), which is the standard code for identifying your book, at isbn.org. The cost for 10 ISBNs is $150, plus a minimum $75 processing fee.
Find out how and by whom your book will be distributed. Some print-on-demand companies handle it in-house. If you do it, you'll need to have the books shipped to you, to contact book chains about stocking your book, potentially visit each bookstore individually, and handle any mail orders on your own. Some bookstores will accept a limited number of your books on consignment, which means you leave them and if they sell, you get paid; if they don't, you pick them up in a couple of months. Some companies have extensive bookstore distribution; others focus more on online sales, which will have bearing on the types of activities you'll need to perform to be successful.
Be prepared to sell yourself. Any real marketing of the book will have to come from you. Self-publishing also means self-promotion, or hiring a publicist to do it for you.
Tips and warnings
- In general, the more copies you print, the lower the unit cost. On the other hand, you don't want a garage packed to the rafters with your books.
- Self-publishing has its risks but also its rewards. Most publishing companies pay authors a royalty between 8 and 10 percent of sales; self-publishers can increase that to 50 percent or more.
- The largest segment of the 125,000 books that will be published this year is the novel, at 12 percent of the total.