A GUIDE TO SELF-PUBLISHING|
by Jordan Maerin
Digital print-on-demand (POD) technology has made creating a book so easy that almost half a million were self-published in 2008. Most of those, however, will sell an average of only 50-150 copies each. As of the summer of 2009, I have sold almost 30,000 copies of my little recipe book Raw Foods for Busy People (all three editions combined) - that's 16,000 copies sold online and over 13,000 in stores. I've made some mistakes along the way, but I've learned a lot about the book industry and POD technology, so A GUIDE TO SELF-PUBLISHING is my way of helping you get started on the right foot. Self-publishing is a great adventure, and it's even more fun when you succeed!
Raw Foods for Busy People is mentioned in the book,
Top Self Publishing Firms by Stacie Vander Pol
Read this 2009 NY Times article:
Self-Publishers Flourish as Writers Pay the Tab
Recent News in the Industry
Starting in the summer of 2009, Amazon.com has added an extra surcharge to all POD titles printed by companies other than their own. This means that an extra $3 has been added to the retail price of my original title sold on Amazon.com, printed by Lulu.com ($11.95 -> $14.95). Therefore, if you're looking for a print-on-demand company, you would do well to sign on with one of Amazon.com's POD companies - Book Surge or CreateSpace. For details, see below under Printing Options.
Steps to Self-Publishing
Chances are that if you're reading this webpage you already have some content in mind for a book, and an idea of the audience you're wanting to reach. The question you must have a clear answer for is this: "What is different about my book?" or "What specific need am I filling with this book?" You will have to answer this question many times on your journey as a self-published author. The answer to this question will be your sound bite, your attention-grabber, that makes anyone you talk with want to hear more about it. The thing that makes your book different and special - this is the information that should be on the book jacket, your website, and even, in more abbreviated form, on your business card.
I chose the name Raw Foods for Busy People to most directly reach my intended audience, and it has worked like a charm. At the time I published my book, raw foods books were not generally created and marketed for simplicity, so this was a departure.
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Reviews & Input
Even before you finalize the content of your book, you should be soliciting reviews and constructive criticism from members of your intended audience, and determining whether you need editorial input. If you're not in touch with your audience, there's no way you can write a book to effectively fill their needs, and if you need an editor and don't get one, your book won't look professional.
- Reviews can be requested from anyone you've ever made food for, or helped with a challenge, or given advice to, or traded services with, etc. Anyone you know who has expertise in your chosen genre, or any related genre, can also be solicited for a review. In the world of raw foods, many authors are also very approachable for official reviews. This is where the internet comes in handy - use it for networking and finding contact info for the authors and experts you want to talk to.
- Editors can help you with overall structural challenges, but you may know someone whom you would trust to look over your book and be brutally honest about its weaknesses, whether it be spelling or grammatical errors, or larger problems. It's better to ask for help now than to release a book that looks unprofessional. We can't all be good at everything, and we needn't be - there's no shame in assembling a good team to help you create a successful end product.
My original audience consisted of the clients of my raw food home-delivery service in San Diego. By using their feedback and having a co-worker at Rawfood.com proofread my draft, I was able to create a book that is still selling strongly five years after publication.
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Book Layout & Cover
This is where the process gets more technical. You want your book to look professional, or at least not so unprofessional that it detracts from your message. First, figure out what the dimensions of your book will be - this might require choosing a printing company first and then working with their specifications for both the inside and cover of your book.
The cover of your book needs to grab your customers both online and from the store shelves, so if you hire a professional for anything, it should be for this.
- Layout - MS Word - Under Page Setup, set the dimensions of your book and the margins, and then check "Mirror Margins" and set the Gutter at 0.2" or more. (This allows a blank space for the binding) Finally, Insert the Page Numbers on the "Outside".
- Layout - PagePlus X3 - This is a good low-priced layout program that allows for consistent design elements throughout the book. Under Page Setup, check "Facing Pages" and "Dual Master Pages." On the facing Master Pages, you can then insert design elements and create different footers or headers for even and odd pages. Also, you can create separate chapters with different design elements. Includes a function for creating an Index.
- Cover - Hire a Pro - To find a graphic artist to design your book cover, you have several options: you can check with your chosen POD printer for this paid service; surf online to view the work of some pros; check with the authors of other self-published books whose covers you like; and put up a flyer at schools for graphic artists in your area.
- Cover - Photoshop - Follow your printing company's specs for setting the dimensions, including spine width and bleed allowance. The quality should be at least 300 pixels/inch. You can purchase stock images cheaply from websites like bigstockphoto.com.
I paid a professional to design my first book cover, which was then adjusted for use on the Spanish book and DVD covers. The same artist designed the Green Magic cover, and then I created the cover for The Fresh Bartender myself, using a photo I took in Hawaii. I encouraged my friend Chef Andi to hire a professional to design her book cover, and it looks great!
|Click images to view enlargements|
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Even if you'll just be selling your book online at first, you'll want to keep in mind the discounts that retailers and distributors will need from you eventually, when you set the price for your book. (Unless you want to create a cheaper first edition and then create a better second edition later when you go into distribution.) Below are sample price breakdowns for digital and traditional printing options.
- Distributors expect to receive your books at 65% off the retail price, and then they extend a discount of 40-50% off to the retailers they supply. Some distributors offer 50% off to retailers as a rule, while others offer 40% normally and 50% as a special sale or bulk price.
- Author Royalties from a large publishing house can be as much as 15% on hardcover editions, and 7.5-10% on softcover editions; however, small publishers may offer less. For instance, if a publisher offers you 14% of the Net, and the Net Profit is 25%, that comes to only 3.5% of the retail price.
- Manufacturing Costs from most POD companies are too high to allow you to sell to distributors, although they might allow you to sell to retailers directly. The only POD companies I've found that can give you a cost of $2.70 for a 130-page book are the ones owned by Amazon.com - Book Surge and CreateSpace - and Book Surge's prices will depend on the quantity you order. Also, many publishers can have books printed at less than 10% of the retail price, depending on their contracts with large printing companies, so this would increase the net profit for the publisher.
- An Amazon.com POD company selling your book online will keep the retail and manufacturing portions, leaving the author with around 30% of the retail price.
- If you sell retail direct to the public at festivals and fairs, to friends, and on your own website with online shopping cart, then you pay only for manufacturing and keep the rest, less credit card processing fees.
I am not very good at saving money for printing, so I was thrilled when Amazon.com's POD companies began offering printing costs that allowed me to give my distributors the 65% discounts. Without this development, by books would probably no longer be available in stores.
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ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number, and the sole company responsible for issuing them in the U.S. is R.R. Bowker. You don't need an ISBN to start selling your book, but once you want to list it with Amazon.com, book distributors, and retailers using barcode scanners, you'll need one. You can start cheaply by purchasing one from a POD company, or just go for it and purchase a set of ten from Bowker for about $300.
For related information, see How to Copyright a Book and the Library of Congress catalog website.
- No ISBN - Without an ISBN you can sell your book yourself directly to the public, on your own website, on a free POD storefront (like lulu.com, cafepress.com, etc.), and at wholesale cost to any retail or online store that is willing to work with you. Large retailers that rely on barcode scanning, or who have single-source distributors (like Whole Foods), won't be able to.
- POD company ISBN - These can be purchased singly from a POD company for $25-50, but the ISBN will be listed with the POD company as the publisher (no matter what they tell you) because they will have bought the ISBNs in sets of ten for their own company. This means that if you later want to have your books printed in bulk from a traditional printing company, you'll have to purchase ISBNs yourself and create a new edition of your book, even if you change it only slightly. (A different ISBN means a different book.)
- Your own ISBNs - You can purchase ISBNs for yourself or your publishing company in sets of ten for about $300. To do this, visit Bowker.com, and then you or your graphic artist can have a free ISBN barcode generated for the back of your book cover at this link. At the time of purchase, you may also want to register for a SAN (Standard Address Number) for your company.
I have been contacted by libraries and several Borders bookstores for my book, and they got my information through the SAN registry and Bowker, which maintains the Books In Print database. I keep my info current with BowkerLINK online, so any reseller can find my book.
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You can make your book available online for FREE these days, with digital print-on-demand (POD) publishing. Without doing any of the printing and shipping yourself, you can link to your Amazon.com listing and your POD storefront from your own informative website, which will be the portal for your audience members. Eventually, when you start printing and shipping to other online companies and distributors, you can expand your book's presence to give your audience various shopping options.
- FREE - Amazon.com - List your book for free on Amazon.com by using CreateSpace.com's free service. This also gets you listed on Target.com.
- FREE - Storefront - If you have only one title, you can link to your book on CreateSpace.com for purchases. If you have more than one title, consider setting up a FREE storefront with another POD company. (Neither CreateSpace nor Book Surge offer an author's page with multiple titles right now.) See my Lulu.com storefront for an example.
- Pro Packages - Choose CreateSpace's Pro package ($40) to keep a higher royalty on sales, or sign up with BookSurge ($299) for more comprehensive book listings and linking to multiple titles from your website for purchase in a single shopping cart.
- Paypal - Sign up for a Merchant account with Paypal or other online financial server that offers a shopping cart for your products and credit card processing. This option will require you to print and ship your own products to your customers, but you'll be able to keep more of the proceeds. This will also allow you to sell and ship related items, like other books and DVDs, small appliances, etc. (by purchasing them at wholesale cost and reselling them).
- Your Website - You can offer a shopping cart and credit card processing directly on your website by using a credit card processing company that offers you a portal and helps you with the setup (check easy options through your website host). By choosing this option, you may be able to use the same processing company when you make sales at festivals and fairs, etc. You can sell other related items as well (which you'll purchase at wholesale cost and resell), and enroll in affiliate programs to help pay for your website.
- Other Online Outlets - Once you start printing and shipping your own books, you can either supply other online retailers with your books directly (at retail pricing, 40-50% off), or find out which ones are being supplied by your distributors, and link to them from your website. See my page on Nelson's Books, which is one of my distributors.
- Online Marketing - For ideas on how to drive traffic to your website, you can check the services offered by your website host or POD printer; use cross-links with other related websites; check into using Google AdWords and other search engine services; and read 101 Ways to Promote Your Website from my Recommended Reading list below.
I started out using Lulu.com for everything, and then switched to CreateSpace, which was the only way I could get my DVD listed on Amazon.com. I was using a traditional printing company to supply my distributors, but now I drop-ship my books to them from CreateSpace.
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Whether you choose a POD printer or a traditional printing company (or both) will depend on how much money you have to invest in your project, and how high you think your sales volume will be. It may be best to get your book out there as cheaply as possible, and then once you see the sales volume rise or get requests from distributors, then do a bulk printing. A bulk order of 3,000 to 5,000 books or more will make the increased profit worth your while to produce and ship, and the quality of printing and customer service will be much better than any POD printer can offer.
- POD Printers - To order your own books to sell or send to stores or distributors, you won't find any better POD pricing these days than from CreateSpace and Book Surge, which are owned by Amazon.com. From Book Surge, your cost per book will depend on the volume you're ordering. Be sure to check the quality of printing, especially if you have photos or images in your book - if they're not good enough, request reprints until it's right.
- Traditional Printers - Get quotes from at least a few companies for printing a bulk order of your books and shipping them to your location. You can request multiple quotes from each company, for instance for different quantities, recycled paper, etc. This research is easy to do online. Compare these prices to what you can get from POD printers, and you'll see the cost advantage. Remember that you'll need a clean, dry place to store cases of your books. Check out Whitehall Printing and the eco-friendly PrintNetinc.com.
Once my first book became popular on Amazon.com, I received requests from distributors. I used Whitehall Printing in Florida for bulk printings, and then I switched to CreateSpace POD when I ran out of cash.
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Wholesale & Distribution
You can sell your book directly to stores and online retailers at a wholesale cost of 40-50% off the retail price of your book - for this, you just need to create and track your invoices. Distributors are those companies that sell your book to retailers for you, and they expect a 65% discount, with shipping costs being negotiable. Watch out for false promises from POD companies regarding wholesale availability of your title through distributors. If you are promised distribution, find out these two things:
If the company cannot answer these questions, then don't let this empty promise affect your decision to use that POD company. The only way to make sure your book is available to stores is to get your book listed with distributors and supply them directly, so the book will always be in stock and listed at the necessary discount. There are three main natural health book distributors in the U.S. as well as some general book distributors, listed below. You can always ask the book-buyers in your favorite stores where they get their books, and then let them know when it's available from their distributors. Contact each distributor to find out how to submit your book for listing in their catalog.
- Will the title be listed as IN STOCK?
- Will the title be listed at 40% OFF, which is what retailers need and expect?
Some distributors will list just about any book they can, while others are more conservative. It's great if you can create a buzz about your book first, by selling online or making personal appearances in your area and selling your book directly to your audience. Get your fans to request your book from their favorite stores in order to create demand from the distributors.
- HEALTH - Nelson's Books - Visit their website at nelsonsbooks.com.
- HEALTH - Integral Yoga - The sole supplier to Whole Foods stores in the eastern U.S. Visit their website at yogahealthbooks.com.
- HEALTH - Nutri-Books (Royal Publications) - The sole supplier to Whole Foods stores in the western U.S. Visit their website at nutribooks.com.
- GENERAL - Ingram Books - Visit their website at ingrambook.com.
- GENERAL - Baker & Taylor - Visit their website at btol.com.
My book was introduced first through Rawfood.com, then Amazon.com. After that, distributors requested the book from me, which means that people were requesting it at the retail level. Through my website, I offer supplemental information to my readers, which is an added value.
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The information on this website is not meant as medical advice.
By following any dietary or health program,
you are prescribing for yourself, which is your right.