What are the self-publishing options?

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There are several publishing options that fall under "self-publishing".  Traditional self-publishing involves typesetting your manuscript, designing a cover, and handing it over to a printer. 

Modern technology has created a number of other options, including "print on demand", also often referred to as "vanity press".  This includes Amazon's Create Space program, as well as POD publishers like iUniverse, Lulu  and Xulon Press.  There are several others, too.  (See my disclaimer at the end.)

You have also surely heard of eBooks, which used to mean simply creating a typeset file in PDF format (like this guide).  Now it can also mean creating a special file for e-publishing on Kindle, Smashwords or Nook.

Most how-to-self-publish guides were written by publishing services to persuade you to use their services or to provide instructions on using their services.  This guide is different. This is an unbiased overview to help you select the best option for you.

You are in the cockpit here, acting pretty much as a one-person publishing house.  You need to arrange the editing and proofreading, the typesetting, the cover, the printing and the distribution. The HUGE – and I mean SUPER GARGANTUAN advantage of traditional self-publishing is that you keep the profits - all the profits.

For example, you might have $2000 upfront costs, then maybe $5 per book for printing.  Your printing costs depend on the size of the book, the paper thickness and the print run (how many copies you print at once), as well as some other factors.  Then you keep the profits. Assuming a sale price of $20, you break even after selling your 134th book.  After that, you make $15 per book.

Compare that to print on demand, where you might make $4 to $12 on each book, depending on the program.  Your upfront costs might be anywhere from $0 to $5000, depending on the program. 

Editing. You might choose to edit yourself or hire a service like ours.  Editing yourself can be tough, as you are probably too close to the work.  You want someone willing and able to review your manuscript with a critical eye and rework some of your passages for maximum effect.

It is also worth hiring someone other than yourself to proofread.  Proofreading should definitely be done by a fresh set of eyes.  We can do that for you, but you can get just as good a job for less money by hiring an English student from a local university.  Proofing generally covers correct grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization and consistent word use.

Typesetting. This means laying out your manuscript in a pleasant and easy-to-read format.  Like editing and proofreading, this is a service well-worth outsourcing.  You could do it yourself in Microsoft Word, which is what I used for this Guide.  Ah, but this guide is just a report.  It is not meant to look like a book.

If you want a book that looks like a book, much better to use software like Adobe Indesign.  Keep in mind that there is a huge learning curve with any new software. It is also not just a matter of getting the mechanics right.  Font selection and spacing options can make a big difference in how people feel about the book.  In other words, there is an art to typesetting, which a professional is more likely to get right than you.

Before you can do the typesetting, you have to know the trim size and the margin requirements, as well as the number of pages. 

Remember that printers print in increments, depending on how their press functions.  For instance, let's say your manuscript gets typeset in 225 pages, and the press can handle 220 and 240 pages.  That means you will have to go with 240 pages, including 15 blank pages.  You might find something to fill some or all of those 15 pages, but you might prefer to have the manuscript typeset in just 220 pages; after all, you will be paying nine percent more for 240 pages than for 220 pages. So you need to know the increments your printer will print in.

You will also need to know any other technical specifications, including exact trim size and margin requirements, as well as paper thickness.  This is more important for the cover, especially the spine  - make sure you have the exact dimensions for the spine – but best to have all the specs before hiring the typesetter, too.

Cover.  There is a section ahead just about the cover design and components.  What is different for traditionalself-publishing is that you need to arrange for printing the cover, so make sure you have all the technical specs.  You can design the cover (front, back and spine) without the specs, but the result will not be as professional, or it might end up costing more.

Distribution. When you self-publish, you are in complete control, and that includes distribution. This is perhaps the toughest part of self-publishing. 

If you want bookstores to have access to stock your book, you need to get into Ingram's and Baker & Taylor's title databases.  You need also to be able to offer bookstores a return policy.  With POD publishers, this is out of your hands.  But if you print your books, you are on your own. Getting into Ingram's and Baker & Taylor's title databases on your own isn’t easy, but if you are counting on bookstore sales, it might be worth finding out if you can.

One of the main reasons an author might want a website is to distribute her books.  For fiction and creative non-fiction, an author’s website or a book-specific website is ideal, and then you can handle fulfilment yourself. 

An author’s website is about the author.  As your repertoire expands, a new section can be created for each new book.  This is typical for fiction authors. 

A book-specific website is for authors who really have just a single book to promote, with no intention of writing more.  Examples would include a biography, a true story, or a book supporting a cause or an idea.

Your website might include a list of books, a blog, an author’s biography, reviews and a sample chapter, as well as a video trailer.  You might even want to include some historical or scientific notes – and , yes, that goes for fiction, too.

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