Thursday, May 17, 2012

So You Want to Publish Your Book (part 4/4)


It used to be that self-publishing a book was essentially an admission of defeat, acknowledging your inability to find a real publisher. Maybe that's why self-publishing companies were called vanity presses. Today, though, self-publishing is a viable option for many authors. Yes, it probably still means that you couldn't find a traditional publisher. However, numerous tools and options are available, and it is possible—though not likely—to achieve commercial success.

A Case Study

I can't describe the self-publishing business in great detail, but I have self-published one book. It was a special situation. When I was a child, my family lived in Europe for three years because my father was in the United States Air Force. We did a lot of sightseeing in Western Europe during the early 1960s. My parents wrote up notebooks about our adventures, complete with photographs, which became treasured family keepsakes. For my mother’s eighty-fifth birthday in 2011, my siblings and I decided to publish all of these notebooks together as an actual book. You should have seen the expression on Mom's face when we gave her the book. How often does someone present you with a book with your name as the author and you didn't see it coming?

So at least I've gone through the self-publishing experience once. I used CreateSpace, which is’s self-publishing service. It went surprisingly smoothly and was a valuable learning experience for me, in many respects. We aren't attempting to sell this book commercially, so I have no idea how well that would have worked in practice. Of course, that is an option with CreateSpace: you can have your book listed on immediately. These books are printed on demand, so you no longer need to stockpile—and perhaps ultimately discard—hundreds or thousands of copies from a big press run. With print on demand, when someone orders a copy, the publisher manufactures a copy and sends it to the buyer. They look just like regular books, although it's often easy to spot self-published books because of the minimalist cover design and interior layout from many do-it-yourselfers.

CreateSpace offers a wide range of publishing options. I took the simplest extreme. I did the cover design (“full cover wrap” = back cover + spine + front cover) and the interior design (both new experiences for me), and simply uploaded the resulting PDF files to CreateSpace staff reviewed my files and concluded they would print satisfactorily, so I ordered a proof copy. I made a couple of small corrections in the cover layout, and my sharp-eyed sister spotted several content errors with a final proofread. I uploaded the corrected files, and again they passed scrutiny. I ordered a second proof copy, and we were done. The entire process cost just $63.34:

  • $10.00 dollars for an ISBN, so the book could be published using my own publishing imprint, Agent Q Bookworks, rather than showing CreateSpace as the publisher.
  • $39.00 as an account upgrade fee that cuts the cost of books I purchase approximately in half. This plan also increases your royalties if you’re selling the books through CreateSpace has since replaced this Pro Plan option with another pricing scheme.
  • $3.58 plus $3.59 shipping for each of the two proof copies.
  • My mother's reaction: priceless.

This seems pretty cheap to me. I can purchase all the additional copies I want from CreateSpace for $3.58 each plus shipping.

So that is one self-publishing extreme, doing absolutely everything yourself. It was an awful lot of work, but this was a labor of love and, as I said, a great learning experience. I never imagined I would be scanning in eighty-three 50-year-old photographs and retouching them.

CreateSpace offers a range of other services if you’re not willing or able to do it all yourself. You can pay CreateSpace to help with cover design, interior design, copyediting, marketing and promotion, and distribution, in just about any combination, for prices ranging from a few hundred dollars up to several thousand dollars. Of course, even having a lovely new paperback available through major book distribution channels is no guarantee that a bookstore will elect to stock your book. There's not a lot you can do to influence that outcome, so far as I know.

I'm not pushing CreateSpace over other self-publishing alternatives. It's simply the one with which I've had some personal experience. Other self-pub companies include Lulu, AuthorHouse, DogEar, Booklocker, and many more. You will probably also want to generate electronic copies of your book to be used in various e-book readers. SmashWords specializes in e-books.


Regardless of which self-publishing route you choose, there’s one thing that everyone who has self-published a book agrees on: you have to be prepared to promote, promote, promote your book. Some people seem to feel that "If you print it, they will come." It's more accurate to say that, "If you print it and tell them about it, they might come." In fact, even if you go with a traditional publisher, you need to plan to spend a lot of time and energy on promotion and marketing. There are many websites devoted to tips for marketing your self-published book, so I'll let you pursue those on your own when you're ready. You can read numerous glowing testimonials from people who sold hundreds of thousands of copies of their self-published book and made a lot of money. The reality, though, is that this is highly unlikely to happen with your book. Sorry. But I wish you the best of luck!

(If you found this article helpful, please consider making a donation to the Norm Kerth Benefit Fund to help a consultant who has been disabled since 1999 with a traumatic brain injury from a car accident. You can read Norm's story or donate here. Thanks!)

1 comment:

  1. I used a few years back, happy with service I got