Note: This is a guest post from last week’s contributor, James Rose. Take it away, James!
This is perhaps the greatest time in history for aspiring authors due to the fact that many empowering resources exist to enable the swift and affordable publication of books. No longer do writers have to “sell” their work to corporate executives in order to see their book in print. With a rudimentary understanding of the current self-publishing technology, authors can produce a professional level book and market it to the public within the constraints of almost any budget. This incredible opportunity called self-publishing exists in an industry with many options that can be confusing and overwhelming. This article aims to alleviate some of this confusion and simplify the process so writers can focus on their specialty of creative endeavors.
Self-publishing a book has many benefits over the traditional publishing industry business model.
The author has almost complete control over the design and layout of the book.
The author retains all rights to the book. Instead of accepting a mere five to fifteen percent of royalties, as is common in a commercial publishing arrangement, the writer gets to set the price and profit level for his or her work.
Large publishing houses can take months to finish a print job while a self-publishing company can deliver the finished product in as little as a few days.
Perhaps the best benefit of going the self-publishing route is the fact that the author no longer must convince some people in a corporate board room of the merit of his or her proposed work. If the creator believes there is significant interest in the subject matter then the creator can make the decision to introduce this subject to the consumer market.
Of course, not all self-published works need mass appeal. Books can be self-published that may be of interest only to a particular region or community. The author can even take this concept down one more level and publish books specifically for his or her club or family members. There is truly no limit to the creativity that can be expressed through self-publishing.
Methods of Self-Publishing
The current variations of self-publishing in the industry can get really confusing really fast and an internet search may only serve to increase this confusion. Most of the frustration new authors face in this regard is due to how the companies in the industry misuse the terms associated with self-publishing in general. Hopefully this section can get right to the point and shed some light on the subject.
The terms one will inevitably come across while researching publishing options are commercial publisher, traditional publisher, subsidy publisher, vanity publisher, print on demand (POD) publisher, self-publisher and printer. That’s enough to make anyone’s head spin.
- Commercial/Traditional Publisher
This is the standard big business publishing model. The books sold at Barnes and Noble were likely published through one of these companies. Commercial publishers make their money from the sale of books to consumers. They are selective as to who gets published. They handle all production and marketing costs and pay authors in royalties.
- Subsidy/Vanity Publisher
These companies make money from the authors that pay for production costs as well as from the sale of books to consumers. They may include layout, editing and marketing services in the upfront costs or they may introduce these services as an upsell. There is generally no selection process; they will publish anyone. More often than not a subsidy publisher will retain the rights to the book. They pay authors in royalties.
The term “Vanity Publisher” came about because this industry got its start from authors that had been rejected numerous times from commercial publishers but were sure enough that their book would have mass appeal that they were willing to foot the bill for production themselves.
This segment of the publishing industry is rampant with scams. Be extremely careful and always read the fine print before going the subsidy publishing route.
- Print On Demand (POD) Publisher
This is a form of subsidy publishing that also pays the author in royalties, however the contracts are less restrictive than with traditional subsidy publishing, so should the book be successful and the author be contacted by a commercial publisher, there will likely not be an issue with the termination of the current contract. This is because authors usually retain rights to their work.
Authors pay a fee for production but the fee is much less than a traditional subsidy publisher because books are typically only sold online and printed off one at a time as they are purchased by consumers. The flip side to this means that the retail price of the books will be higher which could hurt sales.
The term “self-publisher” can be misleading here. The self-publisher is actually the author. The self-publishing company is actually just a printing company but many of these companies refer to themselves as self-publishing companies. This is because they print books for self-publishers.
The author handles layout and design although some printing companies offer these services at extra cost. The author retains the rights to his or her work and sets the selling price and profit margin. The author handles all sales and marketing efforts. Printing companies can do small or large run orders with the price per book decreasing as the total number of books ordered increases.
It is not difficult for an author to post his or her work to online marketplaces. Books are small and can be stored in a spare bedroom. Shipping supplies are affordable when ordered in bulk. Ebay sellers have been doing this with a myriad of products for a long time. It is also not that difficult to convert a manuscript to eBook form. Hiring a printing company is typically the best option for independent authors looking to test the waters.
The self-publishing world has exploded in recent years and continues to grow at an enormous pace. As with any new technology, the freedom and benefits it affords generally come with a confusing array of options and a prerequisite of technological knowledge.
Self-publishing companies have made great strides in their efforts to alleviate this confusion so that authors can focus on what they do best, but there are some things the budding indie author needs to know before pursuing an arrangement with one of these companies.
From here out this article will focus on printing companies and they will be referred to as self-publishing companies.
When preparing the manuscript for submission to a self-publishing company the best way to start is to go to a bookstore and look at a variety of books. Take notes or pictures with a phone and determine the best layout style for the book. There will also be certain style requirements that must be adhered to. An excellent resource for learning these requirements is Strunk & White’s “The Elements of Style” at strunkandwhite.com.
A size for the book will need to be decided upon. The printing industry has some standard sizes that most companies utilize but for an extra fee it may be possible to have the book printed in an atypical size. Determine how many pages the book will need and what type of paper stock will be used. Whatever layout style is decided upon, keep in mind that the book needs to be easy to read. Stick with one or two fonts and do not go overboard with design elements.
The book will need a cover design. Often the self-publishing company will have pre-designed covers or a cover can be custom designed. A cover style will have to be chosen. This includes options such as hard or soft, glossy or non-glossy and rounded edges or square edges. Decide if the book will need illustrations or pictures. Any images will need to be submitted in a print quality file with a minimum 300 DPI resolution.
Any type of preparation work such as editing, layout or design can be accomplished through three options. The author can perform the work, the work can be outsourced for what are usually reasonable fees to contractors on sites such as Elance.com or ODesk.com, or if the self-publishing company offers these services, they can do the work also for typically a very reasonable price.
Keep in mind that all of these options compile in the end to determine the final price per book. This means the fancier the book, the higher the cost. The cost goes down with larger orders so a book with a lot of bells and whistles may need a bigger print run to stay competitive. Market research will need to be conducted to ascertain the selling price of similar books.
Don’t Forget the ISBN
ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. The ISBN is used by booksellers to keep track of inventory and as a solid identifier for a particular book as some books may have the same or similar titles. It is required for any book that will be sold at the retail level. There are exceptions but this section assumes the reader has the goal of writing for a living.
The EAN is the ISBN in barcode format. The ISBN and EAN must be on the back cover of the book. The ISBN must be on the copyright page of the book. Separate ISBN’s must be obtained for the same book sold in print and in eBook form.
There are only a few authorized resellers of ISBN’s. Often the self-publishing company can obtain one for the author at an extra fee. Most self-publishing companies will offer a discount on this service if the ISBN lists them as the publisher but generally it is in the author’s best interest to list himself as the publisher. Publishing companies buy ISBN’s in bulk which is how they offer them at a discount. An author buying them individually can expect to pay around $125 each.
The one major caveat of hiring a self-publishing company is the author must perform his or her own marketing campaigns. For someone skilled at writing and not marketing this can be a challenge. Marketing can be outsourced but that can swiftly get expensive. Fortunately the same technology and societal shifts that made it possible to self-publish a book have also made it possible for novices to run a marketing campaign on a budget.
- Post the book to every appropriate online marketplace.
- Create a press release.
- Mail a copy of the book to distributors, wholesalers and bookstores.
- Schedule speaking engagements in the local community or nationwide if the author is already recognized as a professional in his or her field.
- Offer to write content and do interviews on sites related to the book’s target audience.
- Build a basic website capable of ecommerce transactions. This is not difficult but it can be outsourced for a reasonable price.
- Determine the target demographic based on the subject matter of the book and drive traffic to this site with paid online and/or print advertising.
- Collect emails from buyers and run email campaigns with a mix of valuable content related to the subject matter of the book and pitches for similar or future releases.
- Make full use of social media and stay engaged with fans.
These are some of the lower cost marketing tactics available but the sky’s the limit if the budget exists.
The low barrier to entry in self-publishing means there is a lot of competition in the market so it’s vital for the book to stand out in the crowd. This can be tough but with patience and knowledge it can be achieved. The hit novel “Fifty Shades of Grey” started out as a self-published book. While rare, if the book is quality and the marketing efforts are efficient, it is entirely possible for a self-published novel to become a worldwide phenomenon.
Self-publishing companies get the vast majority of their business from business to consumer transactions. This means that unlike mega publishers that handle large corporate contracts, self-publishing companies should prioritize customer service. Due diligence is required on the part of the author to ensure that he or she is getting the highest possible value for the cost. This same diligence is also vital to avoid the scams targeted at “the little guy” that exist especially in the subsidy segment of the publishing industry. All this research is definitely worth the time because most aspiring authors will attest that there is no greater experience than holding a real book in hand that represents the accumulation of years of hard work.
James Rose is a staff writer for InstantPublisher.com, a full-service self-publishing company with 100% of all work performed in-house. We have been helping authors realize their dreams for the past 13 years. Whether you’re printing a novel, how-to book, manual, brochure or any type of book you can imagine, our step-by-step instructions make publishing your own book simple and easy.