Tips On Self-Publishing
I recently decided to self-publish a compilation of my work. It is something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but have always put off for several reasons; the imagined cost, basic lethargy in editing the damn thing, and laziness when it came to mail-outs to publishers. If this sounds like you so far, you might be able to benefit from a few things I learned along the way. Below I will discuss almost everything you will need to know before jumping into a self-publishing project, some pitfalls to avoid, and approximately what to expect to come out of your pocket. (I’m talking about money, pervert.)
Once I decided I was definitely going forward with this project, my first step was to find publishing houses/printers that offered the services that I wanted. There are many resources for this, but I found the below link most helpful in finding presses that would actually not only turn around a quote quickly, but were also willing to respond to questions in a timely manner:
At nearly every website listed on that page, you can fill out an online quote form and get either an immediate or emailed response. Prices will vary depending upon your options (discussed below), but those of you who have thought of pursuing this and have put it off for money reasons may be as pleasantly surprised as I was.
While filling out a quote, you have a ridiculous amount of options. Don’t worry about your budget yet. Worry about getting the quotes first, then seeing how you can tweak options to get the project in your bankroll ballpark. Go ahead and get a quote for your absolute ideal print options, then do a round of bottom-line quotes and compare the differences. However, before you do this you need to be prepared to answer a few questions – this will save you a LOT of time and will help you decide which presses to bother submitting a quote request to (see especially #8 below).
The general options you should have ready to answer before spending time filling out quote forms are:
1. The SIZE you want your book to be. If you have to, go to your bookshelf and use a ruler to figure it out. This seems obvious, but the difference between 5.5x8.5 and 6x9 is slight enough for you to need to know this beforehand.
2. The TOTAL AMOUNT OF PAGES your project has/will have. If you need to estimate, that’s fine, but keep in mind they charge X amount of cents per page, so try to put it close.
3. The PAPER TYPE you would like. I have not found the price difference between the options to be a major factor in my decisions, but just for your information, 50# white is going to be your cheapest option…and the pages will look it. I opted for 60# natural, mostly because I’d like these books to last a long time.
4. COLOR SPECS for the text. Will you have pictures in color or any color other than black on the pages? In my case I do have a few pictures, but they are B&W and I am not concerned about a high quality, sharp image, so I simply put “black text only”, saving myself some money.
5. HOW YOU WILL SUBMIT THE WORK. Most of these companies are geared toward electronic submissions – meaning MS Word, Adobe PDF, etc. will be sent to them through email or FTP. PDF is the preferred way to do this, and if you can get it in PDF format to look exactly how you’d like it (called “camera ready”), it can save you a bundle of cash. In my case, I chose to submit an MS Word document, and it’s costing me an extra 20 to 40 dollars to do so. Basically be sure to calculate in any diversion from their preferred process.
6. COVER BINDING. Again, seems obvious, but whether you go with hardcover or perfect bind (a soft cover, glossy or matte) you are going to have a lot of options, so have a picture in your mind of what you’d like your project to look like. I wound up going for a sturdier perfect bind (12pt), for reasons mentioned above, but I doubt the difference will be major and could have just as easily gone with 10pt. The cost difference between the two is fairly negligible.
7. COVER COLORS. Options here are usually single to several (4) color process. I wound up speaking with several people at several different presses, and was told that choosing the 4 color process is NOT going to show a big price jump in the job, so go ahead and go for it on the cover. On a similar note to the text options, the COVER FILE TYPE will matter also; just keep that in mind (see #5.)
8. HOW MANY BOOKS YOU WANT PRINTED. You want to know this before hitting the quote sites, because each house is different in the amount it will print. I wasted quite a bit of time early on getting quotes from presses that wouldn’t do a run of less than 500. I my case, I wanted to start with a very short run of 50 and see how that did**. I went ahead and requested quotes from a few places that had a minimum of 100, because I wanted to see how that affected the price of the job, but I mostly focused on presses that would do very short runs. Some will do even one book at a time, but considering additional costs and set up fees, it’s not really worth doing runs of 20 or less.
** - Most of these presses are “Print On Demand” presses, meaning they will keep a copy of your files, and if you run out of books, all you have to do is call them and tell them to print up some more (even just one book at a time.) Very convenient.
9. BAR CODES. I’ll discuss this below.
10. OTHER OPTIONS. These include: shrink wrapping options and proofs. A proof is what they mail to you so you can look at it before giving them the go ahead to do the run. This usually breaks down to either a text copy – cheaper, or a fully copy of the book – ridiculously expensive.
Now let’s talk money. Your amount of pages isn’t going to change, and each press will come up slightly different on that. It is NOT going to be terribly expensive. I have a 240 page project, with the above listed options, and my quotes ranged from 4 to 7 dollars per book with a 50 book run. The quote I went with was 5.07 per book, not bad at all, and that was for a range of 1 to 99 books. It was not the cheapest quote I received, but I liked the presentation of the quote, the accessibility of a sales manager to talk to, and the fact that the press I chose was an established name. Service will go a long way, so get comfortable with the people who will be handling your project. Now, the price for the books was great, but as with everything in life, there are the “other” fees. Be prepared for something similar to this** (I’ve rounded the numbers):
Shrink wrap, sets of 5 = 3.00
Text proof = 10.00 (If I had chosen a bound version to look at, it would have been 75.00!)
File setup = 40.00
Text Conversion = 20.00
Cover Conversion = 20.00
Bar Code = 20.00
Shipping = varies
** - Remember, some fees can be dropped if you submit “camera ready” files.
So, for a 240 page book with a color cover, on nice paper, doing a run of 50 books, it costs approximately 400 dollars. $8 per book total, for the first run. If I decide to print more up in the future, it will be 5.07 per book, plus shrink wrap and shipping – no “other” fees. And this price is with a few bells and whistles, not just the cheapest options. I’m sure those of you looking to save as much as possible, or looking to do a larger initial run, can get the book price well below this amount.
What size run you want to do will depend upon what your intentions are for the project. You will need to consider this beforehand, because if you plan to sell it in bookstores or online you will need an ISBN number. A little bit I learned about ISBN’s:
1. They aren’t cheap. The minimum you can buy is a block of ten, which is $225. There are also several other fees amounting to around $40. So, plan on coughing up $300 for a block. Always anticipate some hidden fee somewhere. The ISBN application form is here https://commerce.bowker.com/isbnsan/standards/cgi-bin/isbn.asp.
2. I’m not looking to establish a dynasty with this ridiculous book of mine, so I figured there had to be a lot of authors out there sitting on unused ISBN’s. There are, but the catch with ISBN’s is that owners are not transferable. Basically, this means no sharing of ISBN blocks unless you can find an author willing to let you use one of his. The problem is that this puts the owner of the ISBN liable for many issues, and that you, the author, are reliant upon the owner of the ISBN block to update any information pertaining to your project that is associated with that ISBN. For example, contact or order information. Avoid a sharing situation.
3. So now you have an ISBN, how does it get converted into a Bar Code? Most presses can do it for you (for a fee, naturally). I’ve read that you can convert it yourself cheaply with the proper software. A bar code, in most cases, is NOT required to sell your book, the ISBN is often sufficient.
4. They can be added to your project later if things really start to take off with your work.
There are marketing options out there for every level of project. In my case, I am choosing to self market locally in mom-and-pop bookstores that would be happy to feature a local author. I will probably mention it on DA and other websites where I feel someone might be interested. These are examples of small-time promoting you can do without an ISBN. There is always the option of eating the price of a book, and sending the book itself off for consideration of publication in chapbook contests and the like. I don’t anticipate a lot of sales, and the furthest I may go is sending a copy in for review to a weekly magazine that my target market reads. Therefore, I am choosing NOT to get an ISBN/bar code, and in choosing so, can NOT sell it in larger bookstores or nearly anywhere online that is an actual marketplace. With the next run, I may add one – I am simply taking the cautious approach. (see END NOTES below for more on this)
Some of you may be more ambitious and will get the ISBN immediately. I’ve researched this a little, which should help you:
1. Many of your larger chain bookstores will actually be happy to feature a local author regionally. For instance, I visited a manager of a Borders bookstore. We took a look at her “local interest” section, which is where you will also find local self-publishing authors. Depending upon where you live, you will have a few or not – to my surprise, Orlando had only ONE self-published author on the shelf. It was a fifteen year-old who had written about his religious beliefs and published it himself. The manager and I talked for a little bit, and she gave me the regional manager’s card. She told me that the regional manager usually will take a local self-publishing author and distribute their book regionally. Regionally, in my case, is 4 stores. And not only will the regional manager place it on shelves, but I was told that she will also set up and coordinate book signings for the author! I don’t see why this wouldn’t apply to other large chain stores as well, ESPECIALLY if you choose a press that has in-house marketing and distribution. So if you are going to market aggressively, be sure not to overlook your local options.
2. Presses/publishers that have marketing and distribution options are all over the link at the top of this article. Since I did not choose this option, I cannot recommend any one over the other. For those of you interested in this option, I did discuss it shortly with one press: http://www.lightningsource.com. Their reply should give you an idea of what offerings to expect in this area:
“If you choose wholesale distribution we would list your book in the databanks of Ingram, Baker & Taylor, Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com. Then for any orders that come to us through those channels we would pay you the wholesale price minus the wholesale print cost. Your only upfront cost is your set up fee plus 12.00 per year for keeping your title in these databanks. All marketing and promotion is up to you.”
There is a service for every level of your project, including companies that do nothing but focus on marketing your project for you. A list can be found on the same website that is noted in the beginning of this article, here is a direct link:
I only glanced briefly at these, as for the scope of my project the services offered did not justify the price. For those of you thinking on a larger scale, that list should provide plenty of resources.
One last note I'd like to throw in - be prepared to EDIT EDIT EDIT. When you have gone over your work and are ready to send it off, go ahead and edit it again. For ANY change you need to make once they have the files, you will be charged. I cannot stress this enough. Edit your work until you are sick of looking at it, and then check it again for any mistakes. You are creating something that represents you and will outlast you, do it right.
If anyone has been seriously considering this and has questions after reading this, or is in the process and would like to bounce an idea or two off of someone else who has gone through the process, feel free to note my DA account. I check it occasionally.
Best of luck in your self-publishing pursuits all,
1. After a lot of searching, I did manage to find an ezine website that will supply you an ISBN for $30. I am currently waiting for a response as to whether or not just anyone can buy one from them for that price. If you are at this stage and would like to know, just note me. Keep in mind that this is still considered a “sharing” option – which I don’t recommend if you can afford to get your own. My plans, if I can acquire one this cheaply, are to print any run beyond my 2nd under my own ISBN. All that is required is that you list in your book that a previous version was printed with your “shared” ISBN. Here is the site:
2. This article does not mention copyrighting your work. If you have not done so, do it. It is much cheaper and easier than I thought. All you have to do is fill out a simple form and mail it in with a check for $30 and a copy of your work. In my case I am waiting to use my text proof for this purpose, though honestly this is probably later in the game than is recommended. Here is the link that steps you through the process:
3. Some links that I came across after the writing of this article that will answer any questions I have not covered here. Actually, will answer better even the questions I do answer here:
http://www.publishingbasics.com/#What%20is%20a%20cooperative%20publisher (scroll down a little and click on FAQ.)
http://www.booksjustbooks.com/ (sister site to the above, see their resource links on left hand side of their page about halfway down.)