By Ron Pramschufer, President , Self Publishing, Inc. – Helping Authors become Publishers since 1995
For those of you who have published a few books already, you might want to skip to the next article. If you are working on your first or second book, you’ll want to read on….
You have just finished a manuscript and you think it’s worth sharing with others. In the old days, you could go to a copy shop and get a few copies printed and bound and give them to your friends. If your friends really liked what they read, you might think of finding an agent to sell your book to a trade publisher. If you didn’t find that agent you might have thought of self-publishing. If you were unlucky enough to have found an ad in the phone book advertising “Writers Wanted” or “Manuscripts Wanted”, you ended up spending many thousands of dollars with one on the various “Vanity” presses and got very little, if anything in return. If you were a bit more on the lucky side, you traveled the path of such greats as Edgar Alan Poe and contracted a printer to print a quantity of books for you and you became a publisher…. a self-publisher.
Today is actually not much different then the old days other than the copy shops have been replaced with digital printers and the vanity presses lurk all over the Internet and call themselves by all kinds of different names. The easiest way to insure that you are truly self-publishing and not being dead ended by some vanity press is to follow a few basic steps.
Step 1 – Determine if you are a Casual Hobbyist, Serious Hobbyist or Professional Self-Publisher. For more info on the different types, please click on the above links and find out which one best fits you.
Step 2 – Purchase a single or block of ISBNs. This is probably the single most important thing that you will do to insure that you will truly control the publishing of your book. There is a lot of lip service paid to this in the vanity press circles. DO NOT LET ANYONE ASSIGN YOU AN ISBN, even if it’s free. This ISBN is in their name, not yours, which unnecessarily ties you to this company. You can buy single ISBNs through authorized agents of RR Bowker, the US ISBN agency. Watch out, though. Even some of these agents disguise the ownership issue. “Independent Publisher” is not you. It’s a waste of your time and money. The only place that I know you don’t have to “run the gauntlet” to make sure you have bought an ISBN in your own name is either directly from RR Bowker or www.SelfPublishing.com. Larger blocks of ISBNs are available at RR Bowker. For additional info on the whole ISBN issue (Click Here)
Step 3 – Editorial – Depending on the self-publishing category you think you fit, editing can range from having a friend proofread your manuscript to a full blown professional edit. I recommend that everyone purchase an Editorial Assessment. It’s not very expensive, $149, and provides a third party analysis of your manuscript and what is needed to bring it up to commercial quality. If you choose to move forward with the suggestions made in the analysis, the original $149 is refunded as long as the minimum word count is met. If you choose to not follow the advice at this point, you can save it for later and edit in the manner you originally planned. Remember, a casual hobbyist can turn into a serious hobbyist or pro in a moment’s time. It’s always good to be prepared. For more on the editorial analysis (Click here)
Step 4 – Text Layout & Cover Design– This is a much debated subject, especially among many of the “High-End” designers. Yes, you need to have a decent text layout and cover design. Nothing is worse than the “home-made” look of many self-published books. Forget about the “in-store” sales aspect. Most self-published books will never see a bookshelf in a bookstore. You want a book that looks like a book if you expect to sell any copies, anywhere. One in a thousand…. maybe ten thousand… need to spend any big bucks, though, on “award winning” designs. Many of the online chat groups lead authors to believe that they need to spend a few thousand dollars on a cover design and an equal amount on text layout. Let me assure you that you don’t. Who cares if you use a stock photo on the front cover of your book? The reality is you could have 100 different books use the exact same picture, or design for that matter, and nobody will ever see these two books side by side. This is what makes my Budget program so attractive. Everyone finishes with a professionally designed cover for a fraction of the cost of a custom cover. For more info on the Budget Cover, (click here). If you want more of a custom cover and layout, that’s fine too but think of spending $400- $750, not $1500+. No matter what you pay, make sure that you own the printing files as well as the application files when the project is finished. Remember, you do not want any “hooks” attaching your project to anyone other than you. The designer might charge you a little extra for the application files because it takes time to gather up all the parts but it should never cost more than $150.
NOTE: The lack of ISBN and printing file ownership is the number one problem in dealing with pretty much any of the Vanity Publishers (Included in this group are Subsidy Publishers, POD Publishers, Supported Self Publisher or any other name they call themselves where you do not have full ownership of your ISBN and printing files)
Step 5 – Printing – If you are going to self-publish, you need books. Forget all the “On Demand” hype. There should never be a question of “Are you going to print books?” The question should be “How many?” You can print any quantity from one to one million. If you only want to print a few copies, a place like www.Lulu.com is perfect for you. Lulu has pretty much taken the place of the corner copy shop with their 1.8 average print run. Chances are, though, that even the casual self-publisher has needs for a hundred or so books. Once you get into anything 100 or over, you belong with either a printing service, like www.selfpublishing.com or working directly with a printer. If you missed my article on why most self-publishers should never try dealing directly with a printer, (Click here)
- Spend some time with the online “Instant” pricing function at either of the above websites. Pricing is available for five single color sizes and three full color sizes in quantities from 100 to 10,000 and a variety of papers and binding styles. See how the pricing changes as you change the specifications. Once you settle on a set of specs that works with your budget, click “Create Firm Quote”. This quote will show on the screen as well as be emailed to you.
- When you are ready to place your order, go to the emailed quote and click on the button that says “Create Purchase Order”. This will take you to an online form that is already partially filled out. You complete the form and click on the “Verify Purchase Order” button. This will take you to one more screen to review before clicking the button, “Submit Information and Create Purchase Order”.
- Your order is almost complete at this point. You will now be emailed a PDF copy of the purchase order you just created as well as a project checklist and sales tax info (if you happen to reside in New York). All of these forms need to be printed out, signed and mailed, along with your text and cover files to us in New York. If we did the design and layout, you can fax the forms rather than mailing them.
- As soon as your files are received they go through a “Preflight” process. If we did the original design, this is pretty seamless. If you supplied your own files, this is where those files are passed or failed as to their press readiness. Once they are OK, your order will be accepted subject to your final OK of specification.
- This is the point where you visit your special page in the Customer Resource Center. This page will be the focal point of all activity concerning your title. Your first activity will be to OK the final specifications as they are being presented to the printer.
- The rest of the process includes you receiving a proof to OK before final books are printed. Email notifications are sent of all status changes.
- Books will be shipped according to your instructions.
It doesn’t get any easier than this. Why isn’t it this easy dealing with every book printer? Read that article I referenced at the beginning of this step.
Step 6 – Storage and Fulfillment – Don’t confuse this with distribution. Once your books are printed, you need a place to store them. Many self-publishers rely on their closet or garage. Keep in mind that with $3+ gasoline, shipping costs can add up, even on smallish quantities. I recommend that anyone who is printing 1000 copies or more consider using a storage facility close to the printer. In the case of SelfPublishing.com and BooksJustBooks.com, this facility is within minutes of the printer so there are no inbound shipping charges. Storage is sold in a simple, subscription basis. You control the shipping through the Customer Resource Center. Make sure you read the small print with any fulfillment center because most which deal with small publishers charge for so many different things it is almost impossible for the publisher to make any money. For more info (Click here)…. no small print.
Step 7 – Distribution & Marketing – Most will argue that this is actually the first step of the process but I am listing it here because reality dictates it be here. I am already over my word limit for this article so I will cover this subject in another article. Unfortunately there are more “Snake Oil Salespeople” at this stage of the process as any other. It doesn’t do you any good to be careful up to this point and conserve resources only to have some fast talker clean you out with some quick buck marketing scheme. Let me say one thing and that is that I ABSOLUTELY do not believe in spending more than $500 on any marketing program. That’s it for now. See in a few days.