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Article 3: Publishing

The Basics of Self-Publishing

by Patricia Fry

Today's publishing climate offers authors many options. You can submit your work to traditional publishers. If you happen to land one, they will make all of the arrangements for having the book designed and printed and they will foot the bill. They may also ask you to rewrite your "already perfect" book. They'll probably change the title and choose a cover design without getting your input.

Now you'll collect royalties on this book that you barely recognize. How much? Generally, anywhere from 6 ? 15 percent of net—that is, whatever the publisher collects for that book. Most of the books are discounted, so your royalties will be discounted, too. If you get 10% royalties on a $10 book and, the publisher discounts the book by 40%, your cut is a mere 60 cents. And this goes on only for as long as the publisher is willing to promote your book, which might be a mere 12 months.

You can partner with a co-publisher who, with your money, will produce your book, do limited marketing and give you around 40% of the profits.

Or you can take control and self-publish your book. Here are the benefits:

  • You'll definitely see your book in print.
  • You can have a finished product within weeks or months.
  • You have the potential to make more money.
  • You have all of the control.
  • There are tax breaks to owning your own business.
  • You are the best possible marketing agent for your project.
  • Your book will keep selling for as long as you are willing to market it.

What about the down side?

  • Self-publishing a book is a full-time job.
  • Self-publishing requires a lot of decision-making.
  • Promoting a book is 100 times more difficult and time-consuming than writing it.
  • Your book will keep selling for as long as you are willing to market it.

If you're still interested in self-publishing, here are some of your options: You can get it printed through a traditional printer, take it to a Print-on-Demand (POD) company, print and bind it at home yourself or produce an e-book.

The most expensive way to produce a book is through a traditional printer. But it's also the best way to get a quality product. There are definitely differences in quality and price between printers. Ask several for price quotes, samples of their work and references. Expect to pay anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 for 1000 to 5000 copies of your book (depending, of course, on page number, number and type of illustrations, binding style and so forth).

If you want to test your market and/or don't want to store boxes and boxes of books, POD may be the right choice for you. You can have anywhere from 5 to 100 books printed at a time, for example. And the turnaround is fast—usually a week to 10 days. However, the cost per book is generally higher through a POD company.

An advantage of using a POD company is that you can make changes each time you go to print. I have friends who change the text for their travel guides nearly every time they place an order with their POD company.

Some self-publishers forego the hassles of dealing with outside print companies at all by producing their books in-house. Anyone with a home computer and printer has the capacity to manufacture a book. You can even bind it yourself using a special stapling machine or a plastic comb binding. Some new publishers use this method to test market their books.

By the way, once you've self-published your book and have proven it in the market place, you may be able to interest a publisher in it. Two of my self-published books have been picked up by traditional publishers.

A major part of self-publishing is promotion. In fact, some experts say you should set aside as much money for marketing the book as you paid to have it produced. If you're not an aggressive marketer, hire someone who is.

Don't expect to produce a book, do a blast of marketing the first few months and then just sit back and collect money for evermore. A successful self-publisher must have a business head, ongoing enthusiasm for his project and a bent for promotion. Your book can live for as long as you are willing to promote it. Once you stop, however, it will likely die.

Hopefully, you will prepare a book proposal before writing your book and that proposal includes a marketing section. This is where you determine who your audience is and how you will reach them. Be realistic, how will you market your book? Don't assume that Barnes and Noble and Borders will clamor to get copies of your book to stock by the caseload. It's getting more and more difficult for the small publisher to get shelf space in the big bookstores. One way to get their attention is to publicize your book widely and strongly enough that customers start asking for it by name.

Find out where other books on your topic are sold—specialty shops, gift shops, county fairs, the school system? Dan Poynter's parachuting books sold thousands through skydiving- related shops. My book on presenting a Hawaiian luau did well at barbecue events, barbecue kitchen stores and Hawaiian tourist shops. You might also consider your book as an incentive item for a banking organization or a large company.

Request reviews. Write magazine articles on your topic. Give workshops on your topic. Invest in mailing lists involving the demographics of folks who would purchase your book. Send press releases nationwide, if applicable. Draw attention to yourself and your book. If your book is for diabetic children, for example, do a fund-raiser for the local diabetes association and make sure you get national coverage.

There are numerous things to think about when contemplating self-publishing. Hopefully this article will help you make the decision that's right for you.

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