Self-publishing is the print and distribution of media in the absence of a traditional publisher. The author is in control of the production, design, copyright, marketing, and sale of his/her book and, apart from shipping costs and royalty rates deducted by distributors, does not have to share profits from book sales.
Self-publishing is nothing new (from Edgar Allen Poe and Mark Twain to E. L. James), but it gained attention in the recent past due to the dispute between publishing house Simon & Shuster and conservative media icon Milo Yiannopoulis. Rather than looking for another publisher, Yiannopoulis decided to self-publish, and his book hit the Amazon bestseller list. Traditional publishing has been on the steady decline, with more authors choosing to self-publish than ever before and traditional publishers seeing reductions in profits yearly.
There are many reasons why people want to self-publish. Some people have a lifelong dream of having their story in print but cannot find a suitable publisher to take on their project. It is also extremely difficult to get signed by one of the top traditional publishers, and your results with these publishers will be based on luck and timeliness as much as talent. Others self-publish to promote their business or showcase their expertise in a given field. Whether you are thinking of self-publishing because your work doesn’t fit the current traditional publishing mold, you do not want to split royalties with a publisher, you don’t have the time to devote to finding a publisher, or you want control over your own work, it is important to know the basics before you get started.
Most self-publishing ventures center on two mediums: print-on-demand and online (e-books). Audiobooks are also rapidly gaining popularity and are worth investigating if you are considering self-publishing or have self-published and want an additional product/stream of revenue.
Print-on-demand is exactly what it sounds like. When a copy of your book is ordered, it is printed. These books can be printed at a low cost (typically around $5.00) and, depending on which self-publishing platform you use, are distributed through the platform itself when ordered by customers or bookstores. The great thing about print-on-demand is that you can choose to order 1 book or 100; you won’t have to go into debt over a large print run.
To produce a POD book, you will need a PDF interior file and a PDF cover file, both formatted for the chosen trim size and page count. Creating a POD book is something that you can do yourself—if you have the design skills, the software, and the time. This is not an easy task to undertake on your own; independent contractors with self-publishing experience can be found on freelancer sites like Upwork.com, Peopleperhour.com, Freelancer.com, and many more. POD companies like CreateSpace also have designers that will work on your book, from layout to cover design, for a flat fee.
There are numerous platforms for creating your printed, self-published book. For the purpose of this article, I will focus on two that are the most popular in today’s self-publishing world for POD books: CreateSpace and IngramSpark.
CreateSpace is a self-publishing platform that is owned by Amazon.com. CreateSpace is extremely easy to use and offers phone assistance from their team for design and formatting questions. CreateSpace offers quick distribution to Amazon.com (their parent company) and will offer promotional discounts to customers through Amazon.
It does not cost anything to upload your book to CreateSpace. You can also order copies of your own book through the site at the printing cost of the book ($4.45 for a black and white interior, 6”x 9” book, 300 pages in length), plus the shipping cost ($3.59 for a 300 page, 6” x9” book).
CreateSpace offers high quality printing options in a myriad of trim sizes; however, CreateSpace only produces paperback books. There is also some debate as to whether or not CreateSpace is a good option when trying to get your book into bookstores through their expanded distribution channels. Bookstores typically order through Ingram’s catalogue, so due to the royalties that both CreateSpace and Ingram will receive from this transaction, it is typically not viable for a bookstore to purchase titles that are published on CreateSpace.
CreateSpace offers professional book layout and cover design services, or you can submit your own files into their system, proof the files with the interior reviewer tool, and order proof copies of your book. Within two days of approving your files, your book will be available for order on Amazon.com and through the CreateSpace store at wholesale cost to you!
IngramSpark is another popular company. Unlike CreateSpace, Ingram does charge a setup fee per book ($49 for a print book and digital book distributed through their channels).
Ingram does not offer professional design services, though they do have resources on their website for where to go for these services and many others, including copyrighting, editing, and marketing services. IngramSpark will also produce your book in a variety of trim sizes and even has a hardcover option.
IngramSpark offers superior expanded distribution services to CreateSpace; bookstores and other major retailers order directly from their catalogue. IngramSpark also allows the author to set the wholesale discount of their book to distributors, unlike CreateSpace, which sets these discounts automatically.
If you are looking for a cheaper, user-friendly publishing option, with exceptional customer service and additional publishing resources built-into the company model, CreateSpace is the place to start. If you are looking for a greater variety of publishing options, like a hardcover version of your book, and want to get your book into bookstores, IngramSpark is the better choice.
As long as you have your own ISBN number, you can publish through both CreateSpace and IngramSpark. The Self Publishing Advice Center offers a guide on how to do this effectively. You may decide to set up your book for both platforms at the same time, which will help you to have a more powerful launch at the onset, or you may choose one platform to start if two seems like overkill or too much of a headache for your book-publishing purposes.
E-books are fairly simple to produce; all you need is a word document and a cover image. E-books cost nothing to create and distribute and are also typically very inexpensive, ranging from $0 to about $10.00.
E-books are a great way to reach a large amount of people with your content. You can sell them for a low price, so that you can generate reviews and further sales. You don’t need a tablet to read an e-book; the affiliated apps (Kindle, iBooks, etc.) can be downloaded to a desktop or a phone.
One of the pitfalls of e-books is that the layout typically needs to be simple. Due to differences in device sizes, headers and footers should be left out of your book. Images can also appear improperly sized relative to the text after conversion. Unless you hire a professional through the publishing platform that you are using, it is best to keep the design simple. If you are creating a book that is image-centered, print publishing or distributing a PDF from your website may be the way to go. The exception here is children’s books. Amazon Kindle has a great, user-friendly Kindle Kids Book Creator that will help you convert your print PDF book to a digital children’s book.
There are several platforms on which you can host your e-book, including Amazon Kindle, Nook, Smashwords, and iBooks. It's relatively simple to upload and manage your book on all platforms, so that you can reach the widest possible audience, so the real question is whether or not to host your book on all platforms or host exclusively on Amazon Kindle and enroll in their KDP Select Program.
Kindle Direct Publishing is owned by Amazon.com. This is the most popular and well-known e-book platform. If you enroll your book in the KDP select program, you can host a free giveaway every 90 days. This is a great promotional tool because you can reach a lot of readers who will leave reviews for your book. The more reviews you have, the higher on the list of search results your book will appear, thus, boosting your sales. During your KDP Select Free Days, your book will show up as “FREE” on Amazon.com, and readers can download and read your book.
The KDP Select program also includes the option of a Kindle Countdown deal, or a price reduction over a period of time, building back up to the full list price of the book, encouraging readers to buy the book while “the price lasts.”
The only pitfall is that if you take advantage of this great marketing feature, you must publish the digital version of your book exclusively on Amazon Kindle. The downside of that is that you won't reach as many people as you otherwise would (some people only use the iBooks or Nook apps). Some authors also just don’t like the idea of Amazon having exclusive rights to publish one version of their content. It is important to note, however, that you can cancel your enrollment from the KDP Select program at any time. Your book will still be available on Amazon Kindle and you can publish on all other platforms.
If you decide to use IngramSpark for your print book, they will provide you with access to many e-book platforms. Take advantage of this option if you use Ingram for your print book!
Audiobooks are rapidly gaining popularity and can be a great way to engage additional customers. Creating an audiobook is a time-consuming process and should be completed after your print book and/or e-book has been finalized.
The most popular method of creating an audiobook is through ACX (Audiobook Creation Exchange). This platform is owned by Amazon.com and is used by both authors and narrators in creating an audiobook. Once you create your audiobook through ACX, it will be available on Audible.com, Amazon.com, and iTunes.
The great thing about ACX is that you can find a talented narrator to read your book for a royalty payment, rather than an upfront payment. There are professionals on the platform that will take care of all aspects of the audiobook publishing process.
Due to the cost of the software used in creating an audiobook and the complex submission requirements, it is advisable to hire an outside contractor or ACX member to create your audiobook for you; however, you can also record the audio for your own book for a more personalized feel (and you won’t have to share royalties or pay someone to produce the book). Bestselling author Rob Dircks gives tips on how to do so in his article, “Yes, You Can Record Your Own Audiobook. Here’s How.” You can also hire a freelance voice actor/professional to record your book for you. Plenty of talent can be found on platforms such as Upwork and Fiverr. These candidates are typically cheaper than those found on ACX and you will not need to share royalties from your published book!
Before you publish, every version of your book (softcover, hardcover, e-book, and audiobook) will need an ISBN number. Your print, hardcover, and audiobook options will also all need a barcode, which comes with the ISBN. Each ISBN that you purchase costs $125. You can get a better price if you purchase multiple ISBNs (they come in multiples of 10).
If you use CreateSpace for your print book, they offer the option of using their assigned ISBN number, which is free. If you elect to use the CreateSpace-assigned ISBN, they are listed as the publisher of your book. This means that you cannot publish the same title through another platform without first un-publishing on CreateSpace. It also means that some expanded distribution channels may not pick up your book because the name CreateSpace implies that it has been self-published.
Self-publishing is a long and exacting process. Mistakes will be made, which luckily can be fixed, but every aspect takes time and resources. A lot of the difficulty in self-publishing comes from decision making, particularly about where to allocate resources and which platforms to utilize. There is no right or wrong answer, as all options come with their strengths and weaknesses. It’s important to remember, however, that since you are self-publishing, you have control over your book, and this means meaning that you can change your approach at any time, on your own schedule!