By Annette and Dewayne Williams
Next to rejection letters, the biggest hurdle new authors face in getting their work into print is the high cost of self-publishing. Until recently, that is.
Self-publishing companies, sometimes called “vanity publishers,” often had substantial upfront costs, and the price per book could be very high unless a writer paid for thousands of copies in advance.
It was the last avenue for many promising authors after traditional publishers turned them down.
Today, there are low-cost and no-cost ways to publish, including print-on-demand (POD) books and electronic books (e-books).
“The publishing industry is evolving,” according to CreateSpace.com, an independent publishing company owned by Amazon that prints books on demand. “Hundreds of thousands of authors are publishing profitable work right now instead of waiting for agents and publishers to give the green light.”
This new ease and economy have led numerous authors into book publishing, and they’re enthusiastically encouraging others to follow in their footsteps.
Pete Zindler, author of “Self-Publishing and Marketing from the Trenches,” considers self-publishing to be a first step on the writing journey. “It can be quite inexpensive. I believe anyone who is just starting out as a writer should look to self-publishing.”
Byron Mettler, author of “Self-Publishing with CreateSpace,” says, “Agents are looking for a sure thing. Publishers are looking for a guaranteed return on their investment. As a result, there are many genres of books which publishers have no interest in, which will only be published if the author takes steps to self-publish.”
On-demand publishing is increasing every year. In fact, non-traditionally-published book titles now outnumber traditionally-published titles. According to Bowker’s Books in Print, preliminary estimates indicate that the number of books published in 2010 jumped from about 1.3 million from the previous year to more than 3.1 million. Of these, 2.776 million were non-traditionally-published, including print-on-demand and self-published titles. (This total doesn’t take into account books published without ISBNs and some e-books.) 1
According to Mettler, “Self-publishing is a good way to show a publisher the writer is able to finish a manuscript and format the book in presentable, salable copy.” As proof of his point, he recently received a contract from a national publisher for a series of books which he originally self-published.
The Ups and Downs of Publishing
Like many print-on-demand authors, we at Williams Savage Books publish our work for smaller, niche markets.
For our first book, “Breaking the Chains of the Occult and Pharmakeia,” we knew from the start that self-publishing was the best way to get it into print quickly and economically.
The book took nine months to write, rewrite, fact-check and edit, but once it was finished, it took fewer than two weeks to receive the finished product from CreateSpace. The service was free. The purchase of a few proof copies of the book was our only upfront expenditure.
We now buy each 158-page paperback from the company for about $3.40, including shipping, and it retails for $12. Our book is also sold on Amazon.com, where we receive a generous 60 percent royalty; our Kindle and Nook e-book is priced at $6.49, with a royalty rate of up to 70 percent.
We are so satisfied with the print-on-demand experience that we will definitely self-publish again. In fact, we have two family memoirs in progress and are considering another Christian reference work.
Retired school teacher Penelope Fox spent about 10 years working on her novel, “Daisy in a Gun Barrel: Peace and Freedom, Love and War, Rock and Roll, the 1960s,” released in 2012. As she neared completion, she realized that self-publishing was the way to go.
“None of the big publishing houses I queried was the least bit interested, and I got several rejection letters — some because I failed to go through an agent first,” says Fox. “Finding an agent looked like another frustrating project. A first-time novelist is a persona non grata to most agents. At least that’s my experience.”
She wanted more than basic POD services, however. “I chose Xlibris after researching the costs, difficulties and frustrations involved with finding a publisher.”
Fox says the upfront price she paid was less than $1,500 for a year-long premium package that included editorial services and as much contact with her editor as she wished, in addition to a media campaign, reviews and book conference publicity. Her royalties are between 10 and 25 percent on print copies and 50 percent on e-books, after distribution fees.
Author Ralph Cates agrees that self-publishing was a lot more difficult — and more expensive — 20 years ago. He published his first novel, “Linchpin,” in 1990. After buying his ISBN (International Standard Book Number) and bar code, Cates put the printing of his book out for bids and selected a small company in Anaheim, ordering 5,000 paperback copies. The large order ensured a low price per book — he paid about $2.16 for each copy, as opposed to a cost of $12 to $14 per book if he had requested a print run of a few hundred.
“I sold 2,800 books in pretty short order for $5.95 each,” he says.
Echoing the refrain of many self-published authors, Cates says he couldn’t get his book in the big bookstores, though Waldenbooks and several independent bookstores carried it. He also got a book distributor to agree to distribute them, as long as he warehoused them.
“That helped, because it gives you an intermediary. Some bookstores will deal with you if you have a middleman.”
When he published “Black October” in 2008, he says, “I swore that I would never publish a book myself again.”
After being turned down by 38 agents and publishers, he found an agent while attending the Las Vegas Writers Conference. She sent the manuscript to 22 publishers, but the response was “underwhelming,” he says.
He finally decided to self-publish again and ordered 5,000 copies of the 756-page book, this time in hardcover. The cost was $600 for the publisher to prepare it for print, and $5,000 deposit for printing, with an end cost of $4.68 per copy. He sells the book for $17.98 on Amazon.com, and 800 copies have been sold or provided to reviewers to date.
Cates is getting ready to present his third novel, “The Phoenix Agenda,” to traditional publishers, but is considering using a print-on-demand service as a backup plan.
Proofread, Polish, Publish!
All writers who plan to self-publish should be confident in their ability to write and edit, or plan to hire an editor or proofreader.
“As a self-publisher, you are in total control of your work and you have total freedom to make it your best work,” says Byron Mettler, author of “Self-Publishing with CreateSpace.”
“You are the author, agent, layout expert and publisher, so you are responsible for your book’s content and design. Your finished book will only be as good as you make it.”
Though the Print-On-Demand process isn’t complicated, being computer savvy is a big plus. When the manuscript is proofread and polished to perfection, including pages for the title, copyright and author information, the document can be formatted to the proper page size, turned into a PDF (portable document format) file, and uploaded to the website of a publishing company where the author has created an account.
Some POD publishers offer free cover templates with a choice of images and graphics, and many will assign an ISBN and bar code at no cost, making the book complete. 2
Depending on page count, an author may buy his paperback book for as little as $3 per copy and receive it within a couple of weeks. Even better, an e-book can be offered for sale in a matter of days.
The writer sets his own retail price, from which the POD publisher receives a percentage and makes the book available to other outlets, including on the Internet. Writers retain all rights to their work, allowing them to accept offers from traditional publishers if their books prove popular.
E-books are an even simpler option, completely eliminating the need to purchase, store and sell printed copies.
Authors selling their e-books through Amazon Kindle, for example, set their price between $2.99 and $9.99 and receive a 70 percent royalty for e-books sold in the United States. Kindle and Nook do not require authors to buy an ISBN or pay a fee to list their books for sale.
As many writers have discovered, self-publishing is no longer a high-cost venture.
And with the help of modern-day print-on-demand publishers and e-book distributors, one may even become a published author for free!
2. Most bookstore chains will not sell a book unless it also contains the retail price above the bar code. However, Internet sales sites, such as Amazon.com, sites often do not require this.