There are numerous reasons to self publish a book: higher profit margin for the writer; much quicker time to get the book out on the shelf; more direct control over the finished product; retaining full rights to your creation; etc. Probably (this is just a guess) the biggest reason people self publish, though, is that they were not successful (or did not want to go through the time and effort) in getting traditional publishing houses to pick up their works.
My first book, I Laid an Egg on Aunt Ruth’s Head, was self published through Authorhouse. The book has been available for about one month as of this writing, and I want to share suggestions based on my experience in the self publishing process. Since I live in the United States, my experience will have a particularly U.S. slant to it (things like sales tax and shipping, that I discuss toward the end of this article).
First of all, you do not need to even be thinking about which self publisher to choose until your work is nearly ready and in the final weeks of editing / proofreading. Authorhouse was able to turn my product quickly after I sent them the fully edited manuscript, and I suspect other shops would be able to do so as well. By quickly, I mean approximately one month from start to finish. Now, I’ll admit that I did contact Authorhouse earlier than that, but I do not think I needed to do that. They were mostly just waiting for me to finish.
Now, if you are in a hurry and want to expedite the process, there are things the publisher can be doing while you are finishing up your work – obtaining the ISBN as well as copyright registration and Library of Congress numbers. More information on all of that is below.
That leads me to the next point, which really is the first point. Before you contact a self publishing house about putting your project into print, you need to decide what kind of self publishing house you want. With some (like Authorhouse), the author pays a fee up front, and then the author buys the books he or she wants at a significant discount, whether it is an order of 1000 books or just one book. Some publishing houses have no or low initial fees, but the author is required to buy some number (e.g., 200) books from the publisher. And some require no initial fee and have no requirements on how many books to purchase, but they also do not typically offer many services for the author.
Of these different publishing houses, various services are offered.
The ISBN number is the bar code on the back of books that enable the book to be sold in retail stores. If you do not have the ISBN, most retail stores will not even think about picking up your book.
The copyright registration, a filing that puts your book on record with the U.S. government, offers more protection than merely typing the fact that the work is copyrighted on your title page.
The Library of Congress number is required for U.S. libraries to be able to order and provide your book in the library system.
Editing services are available for a fee. I do not know of any self publishing house that will edit for free.
Marketing services are also available for fees. This can cover a broad range of things that the publisher will do for the author – produce posters, push your book in advertisements and trade shows, etc. All of these can cost significantly.
Now, how did I choose Authorhouse? Well, I had done some up front research, and Authorhouse was on the short list. I had heard good things about the quality of their books – in fact, we had one in the house and it was nicely done. I liked the fact that Authorhouse puts your book in the retail catalogs (via Ingram) and on Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com.
To tell the truth, timing had a lot to do with it also. I had submitted a proposal to one publishing house for the Aunt Ruth book, and I received a rejection letter from them. The day after I received the rejection, Authorhouse called with an excellent discount on one of their plans. I did the math and it sounded like a good opportunity for me, so I signed up.
Now, while I was finishing the editing, Authorhouse went to work. I filled out a couple forms – an author biography and a synopsis of the book – and Authorhouse set up a web page with my book on their web site. They also set up the ISBN numbers. I paid extra to have them do the copyright registration and Library of Congress work; those are tasks I could have done myself, but I was willing to pay them to do it so that I could stay focused on the book.
Oh yes, we must not forget about the book. Do not think for one minute that the errors that are in your book will somehow magically disappear when your book comes back from the publisher, all slick and shiny on the outside. Any error you leave in there is going to stay in there. You’ve got to do your very best to remove any error at all.
Read the book forward; read it backward; read it loudly; read it in a whisper. Read it to yourself; read it to an audience. Then, when you’re happy with it, send copies to several people whom you trust to give you honest feedback. If any of them are published authors, you should think about having them write a “blurb” that tells readers whether it is a great book (or not). Blurbs such as that look good on the back cover and/or on the first page inside the cover.
You are done editing! Wait, slow down. The first time you reach the stage where you are absolutely sure you are done editing, that everything is exactly perfect and as you want it, set it aside for a day or two and then pick it up. Edit your work again; and then again; and then some more.
Believe it or not, as much editing as I did with that book, at least one error still managed to slip through (and no, I’m not going to tell you what or where it is. You’ll have to find it yourself).
Now, with Authorhouse (as with some other self publishers), they will do the cover art work for you if you want them to, and they will also do the interior formatting. The author also has the option of supplying all this himself, and that is actually the route that I chose. I had something specific in mind for the book cover, and I hired a local artist (and friend) to come up with the drawing for me. He did a fabulous job with the cover picture.
I had another friend do the interior formatting so that I could get it exactly how I wanted, and he spent hours getting it just right. I was able to submit a print ready PDF file to Authorhouse. Authorhouse then made the modifications in the Title Page for me, added a dedication page, and added the author blurbs in front. They also took the cover photo and some other information I supplied (the words to go on the back and in the lapels of the dust cover) and they put it together nicely.
It was a thrilling moment for me when the book arrived on my doorstep. To hold my own creation in my hands was a wonderful feeling! Authorhouse sent me one copy for me to look over and make sure it was exactly what I wanted. It was perfect. I ordered a box of books, and it was again exciting when a whole box of my very own book arrived!
Authorhouse did a magnificent job with the book. There is no difference in appearance between this book and any book you will find from a traditional publisher. I had selected an option that produced both a paperback and a hard cover book (with a dust jacket), and I was delighted with the results.
So, I had the book in hand. What was next?
Self publishing most likely also means self marketing, and you need to be prepared to spend some time in this arena. I knew it would take some time, but I had no idea how much time it would actually require.
Start with friends and relatives, neighbors and coworkers, pets and wild predators, and anything else that moves. Does someone deliver your morning newspaper? Be sure to talk with him or her. How about garbage pickup? Point out to the sanitary work crew that your book would make an ideal holiday gift. Do you have any friends who are particular short? Point out to any height-challenged acquaintance that he could buy multiple books, stack them on chairs, and sit on them, thus heightening his appearance and your book sales at the same time.
Of course, you need to get the word out to everybody you know on-line. Writers forums like Triond and Associated Content are excellent sources for getting the word out; Stumbleupon and Facebook fall into that category as well.
You should also consider setting up a web site as a way to help promote the book and to offer the potential customer an opportunity to buy the book at a way that will benefit you the most. I have set up two web sites – www.JoelSchnoor.com and www.AuntRuthGrammar.com – to offer the book for sale. Why did I do this, instead of just telling people about Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com, and AuthorHouse.com?
Well, the way the discounts work, if I sell a book on Amazon and Barnesandnoble, I’ll end up with a dollar or two royalty for each book sold. If I sell the book on Authorhouse.com or on my own sites, I’ll end up with five or six dollars for each book sold. The Authorhouse site is nice, but I wanted my own site so that I could set up a grammar blog that would assist in eventually bringing in more potential book buyers.
Not having set up a web site before, I had to do some research to figure out which vendor to choose. One of the most economical was FatCow (www.fatcow.com), and I am pleased that I chose them. It was easy to get a site set up with their tools, and there is a lot of flexibility offered to the customer. I am still tweaking the appearances of the web sites, but it is an enjoyable task and not an arduous one.
If you are going to sell a book on a web site, you have to figure out how you are going to ship the product. I ended up choosing bubble mailers and shipping via United States Postal Service (USPS) with their Media Mail rates. This way, I can ship at a reasonable rate ($3.95 for domestic mail) that covers the USPS cost, plus the envelope and the gas to drive to the post office.
If you live in the United States, you need to collect sales tax for any sales down within your state (including customers who live in your state who purchase your product over the Internet). If your state collects sales tax, there are forms on-line that you will need to fill out, and you will need to keep track of sales tax information for each book sold.
You should also consider having business cards made with your name and book information; this is something to hand out when you approach stores and libraries about the possibility of doing book signings.
Now, as for book signings, I have been successful so far at getting signings set up at three places: a local library, a chain bookstore, and a small “mom and pop” bookstore. I’m viewing the signings as a way to get the word out and not necessarily to make a lot of money at the signings themselves. Note that the chain bookstore wants 40% of the revenue of books that are sold at the signing. That is the “going rate” for chain stores, and I was prepared for that. The smaller bookstore will want something along those lines as well.
Visit the stores if possible, rather than trying to line up the book signings over the telephone. The personal touch will help considerably in getting them to agree to let you come in.
Now, the signings have not occurred yet – they will not happen until after the New Year – so I have time to practice my delivery, add a little humor, and smooth out the rough edges. I want to make sure the book signings go well, because I plan on doing more book signings in the future with the future books I am planning on (and in the process of) writing.
Is there anything else? Yes – keep your chin up. Some days I sell a handful of books, and some days I sell none. As of this date, I have sold two hundred books. Most of the sales have been to relatives and to friends at church. The on-line buyer community has been relatively quiet, though I have sold a couple to Triond and Associated Content friends.
I am working on more marketing, trying to make inroads at schools, and I am looking at more libraries as well.
The product is out there. Now I just need to sell it!
Good luck with your endeavors, and feel free to add comments with your experience and/or suggestions.