This message will introduce you to the world of self-publishing and help you decide if self-publishing is for you.
We did a lot of research before we decided to self-publish our first book. We investigated and compared all the different routes of publishing—the cost breakdown, terms of contracts, the quality of printing, customer service, etc. We weighed all the things we had learned and decided that self-publishing was the way we wanted to go. One major factor that weighed into this decision was the fact that we know quite a lot about graphic design. Much of the cost of publishing a book goes to pay a graphic designer for the time and skills they have to create a print document and a cover image for your book.
If you’re reasonably skilled in graphic design, or if you have access to someone who is willing to lend you their skills at a discounted rate, (or even better–for free) self-publishing is by far the most economical way to go. If you don’t know much about graphic design or if you have no access to someone with the skills, you may need to hire a professional graphic designer, that is, unless you want to use the free (but limited) design services offered by Amazon.
There are basically three ways to get your book published. The traditional route is to submit a manuscript to a publisher (or many publishers) and wait to have them offer you a book deal. This offers no guarantee that your book will ever be published. And if it is published, the royalties are very low, in comparison to other routes available.
The second way is to use a “vanity” publisher. An example of a vanity publisher is Destiny Image, which is a Christian publishing firm. They review your manuscript and if it meets their criteria, they’ll agree to publish it. But they require a substantial financial investment from you, first. An unknown author must usually agree to purchase between $10,000 and $15,000 worth of books before printing begins. Publishers do this because they don’t want to assume all of the financial risk—so they pass it on to the author. In essence, they have you cover their up-front costs for printing.
The third option is to self-publish. There are a number of companies that offer self-publishing. Amazon makes the process pretty straightforward and very cheap. They offer graphic design services for authors who don’t have access to their own designer. You have to pay for it, but their rates are pretty reasonable. Their artists are not world-class, so don’t expect a killer book cover. Amazon offers packages at various prices, depending on what your needs are. You can add whatever services you like including editing, marketing, etc. They also offer free (but limited) design services in the form of pre-formatted templates.
E-book or Paperback?
The traditional means of publishing books on paper has changed in recent years with the advent of electronic publishing. Print books require more graphic design than e-books. The higher requirement for graphic design work means that publishing a paperback is more costly than an e-book. The low cost of publishing e-books has made this market very lucrative. The explosion of interest in e-books has created enough demand that if you market your books well, you can reach a wide audience with an “ebook only” approach to publishing. The upside to an “ebook only” approach is that it’s much cheaper and easier to publish e-books. The downside is that you limit your book to people who have access to e-book technology.
Amazon uses Kindle Direct Publishing for its print and ebooks. We chose to publish with Amazon for a number of reasons. They’re by far the largest marketer of books in the world. We felt like the book had the best chance to reach a global audience if we put it in the hands of Amazon, and so far, it’s working out well. The second reason is cost. Amazon’s services are very affordable.
At Inkity Press, we have our own editor and graphic designer, so we did not need help in those areas from Amazon. Writing books is easy, but marketing them is hard for most authors so Amazon offers marketing services for a fee. We planned to do the marketing ourselves through Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. So we didn’t need those services either. The more you can do for yourself, the less you have to pay others for their services. We simply wanted to have Amazon print our book and make it available.
The total cost we paid to Create Space to print our paperback was $10.00. (That’s not a typo.) We paid $10.00 to buy an ISBN number to have the book cataloged and that’s all it cost us. We did have other costs of our own, like purchasing the rights to images for the cover design, but the money we paid to Amazon was surprisingly small. An e-book doesn’t require an ISBN number, so we paid Kindle Direct Publishing nothing to publish our book. That’s right—they published it for free.
How is this possible?
Create Space is a digital print-on-demand service. They only print a book after it’s ordered. They carry no inventory. So if nobody ever orders your book–none are printed and their cost to carry your title is virtually nothing. If they receive orders for the book–they print copies as needed and ship them. It’s an efficient process that keeps costs at a minimum. That’s why it only costs $10.00 to publish a print book. It costs even less to publish ebooks because an ebook sale is a simple, inexpensive transfer of data.
Before you get too excited, let me explain the other side of the equation. My team spent hundreds of hours creating the book manuscript and cover image. The process of editing our first book took almost a year. My wife and I did the first rounds of editing, but eventually, we recruited the help of someone with a better eye for the job and paid a professional editor. It’s common for authors to downplay the need for editing. I think it’s a serious mistake to think you don’t need an editor. Editing makes a good book great.
If all you want is to have your book in print, regardless of how many typos, missing words, or grammatical errors you make, by all means, skip the editing. But if you want a book that shines; one that will be taken seriously by its readers—you’ll need an editor. Professional editing isn’t cheap. You’re going to have to pay someone for their time and expertise if you want them to do a decent job. That is unless you know someone who has the skills to be a competent editor and they’re willing to do it at a discount or for free.
You’re probably wondering what kind of royalties you might expect from a self-published book. Depending on the choices you make, the royalties range from around 35% to 70% of the retail price of the book.
If your Kindle title is between $2.99 and $10 – the royalty paid to the author is 70% on each copy sold. If the retail price is more than $10 or less than $2.99 — the royalty is 35%.
The royalty for a print book is around 35% for purchases made on Amazon. Traditional publishers offer royalties that are only a fraction of this.
It is possible to make money selling books at royalty rates this good, but you have to find people to buy your books. While most authors are pretty good at writing books, they’re often clueless when it comes to selling them. Books don’t sell themselves. Every author needs a plan to get the word out about their book. We won’t go into marketing in this message, but we discuss that in other messages.
Lastly, one downside to using vanity or traditional publishers is editorial freedom. Most publishers reserve the right to edit the content of your book according to their own standards. We consulted with a friend on this issue who shared a horror story he had with his first publisher, who decided to chop out some vital sections of his book because the content did not agree with the publisher’s theological perspectives. That incident caused him to pursue the route of self-publishing. If you’re likely to have content in your book that won’t measure up to someone’s editorial yardstick—rest assured knowing that if you self-publish, you have the final say on content.