Just do it! Publish Your Own Book

Posted on 2010 December 30

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These days it’s easier than ever to get published. There are three parts: (1) print-on-demand publishing houses, (2) digital books, and (3) marketing.

1. PRINT-ON-DEMAND is different from vanity publishing, but it can get confusing. Vanities will hold your hand but charge you an arm and a leg; P.O.D.s levy low up-front prices and then print inexpensive, high-quality copies of your work as needed. (The secret involves advanced computing and xerography. P.O.D.s often handle print overruns for big publishers, so their work is well accepted.)

When first I went the self-publishing route, I used a Canadian P.O.D. because the exchange rate kept things cheap. Nowadays their dollar is worth about the same as a U.S. greenback, so there’s no advantage.

Instead, I discovered that Amazon.com has its own P.O.D. service called CreateSpace. I use them to print out a couple of dozen books at a time as needed. (I sell print copies when I’m on the road with the band I work for.) These days P.O.D. per-book charges have gotten so low, it’s easy to sell copies online for several dollars apiece and net two or three bucks for oneself. That’s much better than with traditional publishing, where the author is lucky to earn ninety cents per copy.

The basic process is as follows: you write and edit your book; you create a PDF digital version of the book; you design a cover (CreateSpace has a book-cover creator, and there are lots of cover-creator programs elsewhere); you set up the book at the P.O.D. website. Don’t panic! The site will walk you through the process. It’s somewhat painstaking at first but straightforward — and, once it’s up and running, the system pretty much takes care of itself.

CreateSpace will perform on-demand printing services for any Amazon sales in the background, and you simply collect a check or bank deposit as monies accrue. (There’s a threshold amount. But I get a check for ebook sales just about every month; see below for more on ebooks.) When you need copies for yourself — to sell at lectures, give to clients, or hand out to friends and relatives — you simply order a boxful. My second book, THE VAMPIRE IN FREE FALL, is about 200 pages in a 6″x9″ trade paperback format; an order of two dozen, with shipping, breaks down to about $4 per copy. (It gets cheaper as you order larger quantities.) I then sell them on the road for a modest $10 and split the $6 profit with the band. If I lecture and sell books on my own, I can keep all $6 — unheard of in the old days.

Check out my vampire novel here: http://tinyurl.com/2fsdhlf

It gets better: with CreateSpace, your book can be placed easily at Amazon, far and away the biggest retailer of books on the Web. There, you can customize the sales page, change pricing at will, etc etc. It’s important to garner reviews for your book — to create buzz and give it legitimacy — and I have an ongoing campaign that offers a free ebook to anyone who promises a review. But I’m sure there are a zillion other ways for an author to set up a campaign.

Incidentally, CreateSpace also publishes music CDs and film DVDs. So it’s a convenient resource for many kinds of artists.

CreateSpace isn’t the only on-demand printing house by any means. And there may be places where you can get a better deal. But it works for me:

https://www.createspace.com/

2. DIGITAL BOOKS are the future. In 2009 ebook sales corralled about 5% of the market; in 2010 they wrangled up to 10%; it’s likely they’ll up to the withers in a few years. Led by the Amazon Kindle ebook reader — not to mention Apple’s iPad, the Sony Reader, Barnes & Noble’s Nook reader, and smart phones — the new medium is booming. Traditional publishers are bitching and moaning, but they’re also jumping on the ebook bandwagon.

Again, Amazon has just about the strongest presence in the marketplace. Its Kindle got the fire started, and by now you probably know somebody who got an e-reader for Christmas. You can visit the Kindle digital book publisher here:

https://dtp.amazon.com/mn/signin

They’ll walk you through the process — which, again, is somewhat painstaking but straightforward. The good news is that all reviews for your print book will appear on the digital sales page as well.

Another excellent site for ebook sales is Smashwords, where you set up your digital book in a process similar to Kindle’s. Smashwords will publish your book in just about every popular digital format that exists, and you keep 85% of the sales price, and they can send your book to other major online publishers, including Apple’s iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, and … wait for it … Kindle! So you can set up your book at Smashwords and skip the entire Kindle process. Smashwords returns about 60-70% of the revenues from your book sales at these outlets, so it’s a terrific deal. If anything, Smashwords is more painstaking than Kindle, but if you follow precisely their step-by-step instructions, you’ll have a product that can be enjoyed on any ebook reader. All three of the books I control are available at Smashwords; you can go there and fill in the Search field for “Jim Hull” and the first three books should be mine. Check it out:

http://www.smashwords.com/

Google is the 800-pound gorilla of the Internet, and now they’re in the bookselling business, so it’s wise to look into their service. Once you’ve set up your books elsewhere, it’s a simple matter to send them to the Google bookstore as well. Find out more:

http://books.google.com/intl/en/googlebooks/publishers.html

3. MARKETING: Without a regular publisher, you must do your own sales campaign or your book will languish. On the other hand, traditional publishers are notorious for dropping the publicity ball — unless they think you’re gonna be their next bestseller — so first-time writers don’t have that much to lose by going it alone.

How you market your book is up to you. I have a Website where I plug my books mercilessly, and you may have noticed the sidebar on this blog that connects visitors to my books. I also mention my books, from time to time, at Facebook and LinkedIn. In-person selling is another powerful way to increase your revenues. I sell books on the road; many authors give lectures, do book signings, teach classes, and so forth. (Remember: most traditionally published authors do book-signing tours, where essentially they vend copies one at a time.) Back-of-the-room sales can generate most of the income from public appearances and a good chunk of total book revenues.

You could buy ads, but that gets expensive. Still, it may be worth looking into Google’s Adwords, a system that charges you only for online clicks based on the bid price of the words you use. It’s tricky, but Google makes most of its money this way, so it’s a popular product. Check it out here:

http://adwords.google.com/

Publicity is basically free; done right, it can create big interest in your product. But most people have no idea how to write a press release, so they get nowhere. Check out Paul Hartunian’s publicity strategies for a terrific how-to guide. (He sells a system that includes hand-holding, but if you poke around his Website you can figure out much of it on your own.) I’ve made money using his approach. Here it is:

http://www.hartunian.com/

. . . And there you go! There’s never been a better time to be a published author: technology has given the reins of control to the artist; the process is dirt cheap; with a bit of business sense, you can go far. Good luck with it.

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Posted in: The Arts