The Absolute No-Bulls**t Guide To Writing, Publishing And Selling A Book, Chapter 4: Self-Publishing

The Absolute No-Bulls**t Guide To Writing, Publishing And Selling A Book

Introduction and Chapter 1: 90% Of What You Need To Know, In One Chapter
Chapter 2: Writing Your Book
Chapter 4: Publishing Your Book, Part 2: Self Publishing (you are here)
Chapter 5: Selling Your Book

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Chapter 4: Publishing Your Book (Self-Publishing)

The one thing you need to realize right here, right now: It's all on you. 

It can be overwhelming. And yeah, when you start thinking about the fact that you are now responsible for editing, layout, cover design, printing, proofing, distribution and warehousing, you're probably going to feel a bit nervous. But that's why we're here, and why I am writing this. With just a little bit of homework, you can actually handle all of this yourself, or cut costs on having others handle it for you. 

You don't have to do this alone. But it does ultimately fall on you. You're making all the decisions. It's really quite liberating. And at the end of it, you're guaranteed to have a book in your hands. A trophy to celebrate all your hard work. How much it sparkles and shines, though, depends on how much effort and attention to detail you put into the process. 

One good thing - you don't have to format a formal manuscript like when you submit to a publisher / agent, unless you want to for your editor. Good thing too, cause that format is ugly. 

First Thing's First: Your Intentions

Are you planning on making a go of this as a business, or are you just doing a few copies (or a few hundred copies) as gifts for friends? 

If you're doing the gift thing, use Lulu.com - it's the easiest, quickest most direct way to put a book out at minimal cost to yourself. The books come out looking pretty good when you use the "professional" quality setting, and you'll save yourself a ton of effort on logistics (warehousing, shipping, getting an ISBN, etc). You upload a word document or pdf, choose a simple layout and design, put a picture on the cover and automagically, it becomes a book. Done. Glad I could help. Same goes if you want an e-book, but have no idea how to create a .mobi or other ebook format.

If you're planning on taking this further - building a customer base, marketing and selling your books, distribution to stores and through Amazon... There's a lot to talk about. I'm going to start with the "Everything else" first, because believe it or not, it's shorter.

Everything Else That Isn't Actually Publishing (Or, "Cover your ass")

I am not a lawyer. This is not legal advice. 

That said, I highly recommend you start a business. You don't have to, but consider it. The process is remarkably simple - you file some paperwork in your local municipality, and you're done. You can be a sole proprietorship, a corporation or an LLC (Limited Liability Corporation). I chose LLC because, to make a long story short, you get all of the separation of liability benefits you get with a corporation, without any of the paperwork overhead (no meetings, no officers, etc). When you pay your taxes at the end of the year, it's "tax-through" - you do it on your personal taxes. It's simple. 

The IRS has a great checklist for their side of the business. READ IT. Know it. You're responsible for your own taxes. Do the paperwork right. Use LegalZoom - they're more expensive than doing it yourself, but it's no-muss, no-fuss. Don't get cute - file the paperwork in the state you live in, unless you plan on growing the corporation to a multi-million dollar a year industry. If you don't want to use LegalZoom, your state's Department of Revenue website will have filing instructions. I did mine myself, and it cost me $60 in the state of Georgia to start my LLC. I wish I'd used LegalZoom, though, as my initial articles of incorporation were wrong. The extra $150 would have saved me a bunch of time and money. 

Name your company whatever you want - YourNameIndustries, LLC is just fine. Then, file a DBA (Doing Business As). You can then legally do business under any names you file - including your personal name. Keeps things simple. My company is This Is Not Art! Productions, and I have a DBA for This Is Not Art! - that way I can be all vain and call it that if I want. 

Next, file your EIN - this is like a Social Security Number, but for your business. You may never use it, but if you open a line of credit or a credit card, you'll want to use this number instead of your EIN for separation of purchase crap. 

Next, open a checking account for the business. KEEP ALL BUSINESS MONEY SEPARATE. At worst, if you're a corporation or LLC, a judge can rule that you didn't keep things separate enough and you're on the hook if anyone sues you or your corporation. Basically, your house will be on the line if you fuck up as your corporation. Don't let that happen. 

Now, since you're about to publish your own book, you're about to incur expenses -- the editor, the printing costs, shipping, any services you hire to help you out, packing materials, pens, envelopes, gas when driving to book signings. Keep tabs on every ounce of this, and write it all off on your taxes.

Next, figure out a place where you can do the work of packaging and shipping books (if you're only doing an e-book, this won't be an issue). If you plan to order copies in bulk and store them, you need a place to do that. Just make sure you heed my warning in the introduction about properly sealing garage doors. 

Uline.com offers packing materials in bulk for decent prices. This is who you'll want to use to box, tape, label and marker your book packaging if you ship them yourself. 

Okay, Now The Publishing

There are literally hundreds of ways you can go about publishing your own book. If you do Google "Self Publishing," you're going to be inundated with hundreds of companies who all promise to guide you along the path of putting your book out. 

My job is to cut through the shit and tell you what to do, right? So the first thing is that most of the companies out there offering print on demand aren't actually "print on demand" companies, they're vanity press companies who do their printing on demand. They will sell you high-priced packages, mark up the cost of an ISBN and charge you for being listed in Ingram, and ultimately cost you way too much to be worth it - regardless of whether you choose to do this for yourself and friends, or build a business of it. 

For physical paper books, there's really only three options: Bulk, Full-Service Print-on-Demand, and Partial-Service Print-on-Demand. 

For each of these options, I'll use an example book that is paperback  perfect bound, 240 pages, 5.5" x 8.5" (Digest size), color cover with black and white interior on bright white (professional) paper... A professional quality book that doesn't look like shit. Don't worry if you don't know what some of these terms are or what your various options are - we'll go over that in a bit. Just know that what I've described above is the "standard" paperback book that isn't pocket edition. It looks like this:

Bulk Printing: Hire a book printer who will print copies of your book in quantity and ship them to you. When you run out, place another order. 

Pros: High-quality copies (provided you did your research and picked a good printer). It's what the publishers do. The cheapest of the options per copy. If you're certain you can sell inventory and you're concern is the bottom line, do this. It's what the major publishers do. Our example book would cost about $2.20 a copy starting at 1000 copies, and price breaks go into effect as you go up in quantity. If you already know you can sell 10k copies of your book, do this. The savings will be VERY worth it, as you can save between $2.50 and $5.00 per book, depending on the other services you might have used, and $12,500 - $50,000 is a LOT of money. But unless you have a pre-order sheet with paid sales in those figures, you probably still want to investigate print on demand.

Cons: You have to manage inventory and distribution, minimum orders are pretty large quantities that require a substantial investment up front (usually 1000 copies, so $2250ish), shipping is expensive, you're responsible for shipping EVERY SINGLE BOOK for every single order, regardless of source. You'll have to produce a separate e-book if you want one.

Notes: This is the most hands-on, but also most profitable of the solutions. It's not what I did, because I didn't anticipate selling a lot of copies. If I had to do it over again, I might consider this more due to the number of copies I actually did sell... But ultimately would still use Lightning Source. Plus I really didn't want to be responsible for Amazon / bookstore orders. You'll have to create an imprint yourself if you plan on getting an ISBN. Remember also that every minute you spend doing one thing is a minute you can't spend doing something else - if you're shipping books all day, you can't market them. If you hire someone to ship the books, will you pay them as much as if you just went print-on-demand?

Full Service + Print on Demand: These services are much less hands-on - they tend to market the fact that they're fire and forget. Send a document to them, wait a few days, proof your book, and boom - you have a book. 

There's only one option I personally recommend, and it's Lulu.com. Lulu is the simplest, but also most fully-featured, of the full-service print-on-demand options out there. Others that i've heard not terrible things about are iUniverse.com and Trafford.com - I can't personally recommend either, and in researching them, they seem awfully expensive and "package oriented". So I say stick with lulu. 

Lulu not only does all of the heavy lifting when converting your document (be it word, text or fully-laid-out PDF), but they also have a digital marketplace where your book will be sold. They also make it available in Amazon.com (if you want it). It's Print-on-Demand, meaning when an order comes in, they print it at the point of sale. They also handle shipping it to the buyer, and they deposit the profit into an account for you.  They also make ebook formats and put you in both the Kindle Marketplace and Apple iBook store.

Pros: No out-of-pocket costs (unless you buy a proof copy), so low barrier to entry. VERY simple to get the book from document to print / e-book. Print on demand, so there's no warehousing on your end. Drop-ships to buyers, so you don't have to ship every order. Offers full service packages if you need help or want professional services, like layout, design, editing. Offers an ISBN service, so your book can be registered and found by people. Pretty much a one-stop shop for both paper and e-book. Puts you in Amazon if you buy the ISBN package.  If you don't want to buy the ISBN, you can just sell in the Lulu Marketplace. Offers Kindle and iBook (Apple) publishing options.

Cons: VERY EXPENSIVE OVERALL - even though you're not fronting any money, the per-copy price is by far the most expensive option on this list, at $6.70 a copy for our example book (you can cut costs down by choosing "standard" paper, but the book will look like shit). Every copy will be "published" by Lulu Press, not your fancy imprint name. On Amazon, it'll be listed as published by lulu. Like it or not, "Lulu Press" is synonymous with "crap." I hate this, but it's true. ISBN is marked up like crazy. Editing service is a bit too closed off, the editor isn't someone you can meet and trust (as they're outsourced). Book isn't listed in Ingram by default (the catalog most every bookstore orders from). Distribution is not set with bookstores, so if you want to sell to them, you have to manage that. Even on the "professional" paper option, the covers still look a little sub-par. Bulk discounts for large orders don't apply on "professional" paper option. 

Notes: Lulu is pretty much the easiest option on the list if you can overcome the stigma of having Lulu Press on your book and marketing material. Very expensive per copy, but that's because they literally do everything for you. Even though you can just upload a word doc to them and have it turn into a book, I still highly recommend you lay it out so it looks professional (and you can put your own personal touches on it). This is the option if you seriously feel like everything else is just too much to handle, but know that you'll never create a sustainable business out of it - you'll eventually need to move to Lightning Source or bulk printing. 

Partial Service Print on Demand: Lightning Source. These guys are who I use, and there's a huge reason why. Even though I had to do all the pre-printing stuff myself, the books come out looking 100% top notch professional. They list you in Ingram, who is the major catalog for book sellers in the US and UK. They handle shipping to resellers, and you can order in bulk to cut the cost. They require that you set up an imprint, which is going to require that you set up a business (you need a Tax ID). They output both physical and e-books. The price is middle-of-the-road for all options, at about $4.40 per copy of our sample book. There is a set-up fee, but it's only $50 (whereas Lulu.com is free). But again, because it's print-on-demand, you're not paying up front to produce books (unless you have pre-orders, and bulk order prices do apply, cutting costs a bit).

Pros: Ingram, plain and simple. You're now in every bookstore in the nation (but not on the shelves - more on this in Selling). Drop-ship for orders placed by every retailer, meaning you don't have to ship books to most bookstore yourself, they can just order it. Available in US, UK and Canada. Manuscripts are published in both physical and e-book format, and made available to retailers. Price is decent for print-on-demand / drop ship. Covers are bright and vibrant, books are very professional quality. Bulk discounts for quantity (roughly $3.60 for 1000 copies of our sample book). 

Cons: You have to manage all pre-press yourself. Layout, editing, ISBN, cover, etc. I personally wanted to do all of that myself. Very hands-off. You must have a tax ID to set up an imprint. No marketplace to offer the book if you don't have an ISBN (unlike Lulu). No automatic Kindle / iBook store integration (but it's easy enough to do yourself). There is a setup fee per book of $50, and proof copies are $50 each. But at $100 bucks, it's a super cheap trade to get into Ingram and not deal with logistics.

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Once you've picked your method of printing, there's a process to go through. If you chose Lulu.com, you're pretty much good to go (except I still recommend highly that you format the book in a layout program instead of just uploading a word document, but that's a style thing). 

Getting an ISBN + Barcode

If you want to be found in libraries, Amazon, or at all, you need an ISBN. The International Standardized Book Number is how everyone who isn't a friend of yours will locate your book. Simply having an ISBN doesn't guarantee that your book can be ordered through Amazon or other retailers -- you have to set up distribution with buyers so they know how to actually get your book. That's why Lulu and Lightning Source are so useful - they are the distribution for your book, and they list you with retailers (Lulu with Amazon, Lightning Source with everyone who buys through Ingram including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books-A-Million, etc). 

There's only one place you can get an ISBN, and that's through Bowker. You can buy just one, and it'll cost you $125, or you can buy them in quantity starting at ten for $250 - I went with ten, because hell, I know a bargain when I see one.

When you register your ISBN, you'll have to set up the book's metadata. This is the title, publisher / imprint, category, description, long description, etc. This is the stuff that shows up on your book's Amazon / store listing page, so write it well and choose carefully. 

You'll also get the barcode that you'll put on your book. I'm sure this part is self-explanitory.

Laying out the book

If you want the book to look professional on the inside, you'll want to use something like Adobe InDesign or Quark Express to lay it out. These programs have huge learning curves and aren't free - so unless you're the intrepid digital explorer I am, you may want to hire this part out. But I sincerely hope you'll do this step, instead of just uploading a word document to lulu. Trust me -- it does make a huge difference in how the book comes out.

I found the process of laying out a book very, very rewarding. But also very frustrating. I made some big mistakes when I put out the first Mentally Incontinent -- I chose a terrible font (verdana), but my intention was to bring some of the "websitey" aspect of the writing to the book. I also started some chapters on the left page - never do that. Chapters start on the right side. Everything else is going to be your own personal aesthetic. Look in books you like and see how they're laid out.

Designing the cover

You can just slap black text on a blue background and have it be your cover, but it'll look every bit as bad as it sounds. Seriously, design a nice cover. Hire a designer. Everyone says you can't judge a book by it's cover, and while this is true about the quality, you sure as hell can determine a book is ugly by its color. Attractive things may not necessarily instantly sell, but ugly things definitely take more convincing. Who needs the hassle? Your job is hard enough.  The big thing is the barcode for the back cover. You need to have that there, along with the ISBN and price of your book. 

The Proof

Once you've gotten the pdfs of the book and the cover to the printer, you will have the option of buying a proof copy. DO IT. It's $50 for a proof copy at Lightning Source, and it'll save you a TON in recalls or reprints if you find mistakes (or rather, when you find mistakes). The most important thing you do when you get your proof copy is pop open a bottle of champaign, because lo and behold - you have a book. 

Submitting a revision

Most everyplace you have your book printed will have a process for revisions. It's as simple as uploading a corrected copy of your book document and / or cover. It'll cost you to print a new proof copy, and Lightning Source will charge you another setup fee. 

And now it exists. Your book is a real life no kidding thing.  Time to sell the sucker.