Sunday, April 10, 2016

The self-publishing process: Should I do print?

If you've made the decision to self-publish, the next think you need to decide is whether to publish print books or ebooks or both.


To self-publish in print, almost the only viable option, unless you are rich enough to invest the money needed to print several thousand copies of your book, is to use a POD service. POD stands for print on demand, a process that takes advantage of new technology that melds a high speed printer/copier machine with a book binder. So far as I know, the only commercially available one is called the Espresso Book Machine. Some bookstores have invested in these machines, but they are expensive, so they are not generally affordable for a small business. But several online companies are out there, including Lulu and CreateSpace (from Amazon) and Barnes and Noble, that provide a way to print and sell your book using their POD machines and their websites.

However, even the POD process requires that you format the manuscript properly, and create a PDF of the book interior that looks like a typeset book, with all the correct information on the title page (front and back) and with proper headers and footers, including page numbers. That is much harder than it sounds! Some people use MS Word templates from companies like Joel Friedlander's Book Design Templates. Other use desktop publishing software, like Adobe InDesign (which can also produce an epub file for the ebook version). But InDesign is complex and not free, so that's a real investment of time and money.  There are commercial services that will format print books, just as there are for ebooks, but all of them have the same limitation: correction workflow. If you give a commercial services a word processing file, and they give you the a PDF to publish from, how do you correct that if you find an error later? Generally, unless you can edit PDFs, you have to ask them to make the correction for you.

Obviously, everything should be proofed carefully before you hand over the m.s., but it's difficult to be sure you got every single tiny typo.  Correction workflow should be factored into your decision on how to produce the PDF.


You will need a full-color PDF of the entire cover (front, back, and spine), not just a front cover image, like you do for an ebook. The cover is even more important for print than for ebooks, so you will need to be sure it looks good. There are tons of graphic artists who will work for reasonable rates, but be sure you are dealing with a reputable one before you give them your money.  Most of my covers were done by relatives with graphic design experience, but I have also used Nessgrahica. They are based in Croatia, so you would need to send the payment via Western Union, which you can do online.


The per copy costs involved in producing a print book mean that you can't price it as competitively as you can an ebook. Amazon will let you set the price on a Kindle book as low as 99¢, but because they have to pay for paper and ink, they will not let you price a CreateSpace POD book at a loss; generally, a POD book will cost about the same as a commercially-published trade paperback. This is a significant drawback if you're starting out. One reason self-published ebooks sell as well as they do is that they are so much cheaper than ebooks from traditional publishers, who price them high to protect hardcover sales.


Another limitation is that POD books are not generally found in bookstores,. Even the B&N POD books are only at  few B&N stores that have Espresso machines. This means online sales are your only retail outlet, unless you want to go around to bookstores and persuade the owners to carry your books on a consignment basis. Some people do this successfully, others not. Some authors carry extra copies of their books to conventions and sell them to people they meet. You need to decide what you're willing to do to sell your books.

The Payoff

Quite frankly, most self-published titles don't sell well in print unless they are by an author who was already well established before the self-published titles came out. However, even if you don't sell that many copies, having a print version of your book is an advantage. You can give away free copies as promotions and (hopefully) get reviews, and if you make contacts at conventions or readings, you have something available for those folks who just don't want ebooks. And you can hold book signings!

n.b. Updated 9/23/16

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