Disclaimer: This is the question I’ve heard the most, but I do not claim to be an expert. I’m simply sharing my experience and what I learned from the process.
So you’ve been typing away for the past year or so and you want something physical to hold in your hand. How do you acquire it? Well, there are a zillion options out there for self-publishers and it’s difficult to decide which is best for your story. You could go all-in on Amazon, you could do Lulu, you could try Ingram, or you could find someone local to print a bunch of copies at presumably a higher cost. You could also settle for an eBook at virtually no cost to you and hope people are excited to download it. I chose to start with a company called Blurb.
Blurb is an online publishing company that is well known for printing beautiful photo books. I learned through a bit of browsing that they also print trade books and allow you to sell the physical copy, a digital copy (.pdf), and an eBook variant on their marketplace. Plus, the only cut they take is their own printing cost to you (more on that later). Since my goal was to get 100 copies on my doorstep before the 2018 holiday season, Blurb sounded like the simplest option and I went ahead and pulled the trigger.
First thing’s first, make sure you have proofread your stories at least three times and have gotten at least one extra set of eyes on them. This is especially true if you have a word processor with auto-correct built in. I made this mistake and my first print first editions all have a few spelling errors that were ALL created by auto-correct. Yeesh!
Now head to Blurb. Blurb will have you download a program called BookWright. BookWright is a great, though sometimes clunky, software that allows you to create what your book will look like. Do not rush this process. You spent all that time writing your story, you should devote the same amount of effort with formatting it. Just for the sake of word count, here are the metrics I chose for my short story compilation, “The Mother’s Eye (and other curiosities)”.
- Cover: Paperback, glossy
- Size: 5×8 inches (I like a smaller book, especially for reading short stories.)
- Paper: Economy black and white, cream colored, 50 weight
- Pages: 108 (must be divisible by 12)
- Margins: BookWright calls them layouts. I chose the most surface area of text space from the options but I wish I would have gone one size down (larger margin). Red cut-off line is pretty accurate.
- Cover: I designed my own and imported it as an image. Take your time with this because it will attract potential readers!
- Spine: At 108 pages, my spine was just thick enough to have my name/title printed on it. If I would have had a larger margin inside, my book would have been preferably a bit thicker.
- Copywrite: Google “what copyright info do I need for a self-published book”.
Now, moving on. Once you’ve taken great care to get everything perfect, (and you did, right?) it’s time to upload your finished product to Blurb. Here’s the tricky part that I’m still not 100% sure if I got correct, but is working out so far. BookWright/Blurb will ask you if you want to enter your own ISBN, or if you want to be assigned a free one. ISBN’s typically cost around $100 and the sites that sell them are kind of confusing. I chose the free ISBN from Blurb which they will automatically print on the back cover of your book in the little square that has the barcode. You can not access the ISBN ahead of time to type on your Copywrite page. That is extremely annoying so I just typed “ISBN: See online or on back cover” just to have something there. As far as I can tell, there are no other downsides to the free ISBN except that some places will recognize Blurb as your publisher even though Blurb says not to say they are your publisher. Who knows!
Now your book is on Blurb! My recommendation is to sell it strictly on the Blurb marketplace until you’ve exhausted your friends and family income. Blurb is by far the lowest cost to you so you will see the greatest profit. The only downside to your buyers is that Blurb’s shipping is a bit spendy and much slower than Amazon. For that reason, I chose to order 100 copies myself (that’s the least amount of books to order to receive that maximum discount per book.) The cost to me for each book was around $3.00 and I sold them for $10.00. They arrived in a few weeks, in two boxes, nicely packaged, and extremely high quality. I couldn’t be happier with how they turned out!
Alright, so what about an eBook? This one is a bit more confusing. Initially I wanted to sell it on Blurb, but BookWright currently has a problem when you justify your text. It adds a bunch of random characters at the end of each page and the only current fix is to left-align. Since you’ll never find a book that’s left aligned, I decided to go with Amazon Kindle KDP. From there you’ll download a tool called Kindle Create which has a pretty straight-forward interface. I just copied and pasted all of my short stories, set my story titles as “headings”, and now the whole book is neatly searchable for kindle readers. Pretty cool!
As for eBook pricing, there are two ways to do it. You can charge your paperback price until your friends and family income runs out, but then you’ll want to go cheaper. Kindle allows you to keep 70% of your profit if your eBook is $9.99 or cheaper, with the highest number of sales sitting right around $2.99. Then you can do Kindle Unlimited. Unlimited is a subscription service where subscribers can read any eBook for free, then you get paid for each page that is read in a given month. The only downside to this is that Amazon owns all rights to your eBook for three months at a time. You can choose not to renew after 90 days, but you cannot sell it anywhere else during that time. Your choice! (I’ve heard even crappy books get something like $15 a month just for being available for free.)
Now you’re ready to share on social media. Hands down the most important tool for you is to become an author on Goodreads. Create a profile, click on the “become a Goodreads author” section, fill out your credentials and your ISBN (the one Blurb provided you with for free works fine!) and they’ll approve you within a day. A personal website comes in handy, too, but book lovers all flock to Goodreads. In the long run, you’ll want everyone who reads your book to rate and/or review it here so other potential readers will know to read, or stay away, from your work! 🙂
Once that’s completed, make your heartfelt post across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc about how you just worked hard and published your first book! You’ll be prepared with all the infrastructure you put in place and you won’t need to worry about how you’ll get copies to friends, family, and local author supporters. Big sigh of relief!
Finally, your book has been out for a few weeks, and you feel that all of your early adopters already have your work. What then? This is the stage I am currently at. In my opinion, the biggest push is to get those who have read your book to give it an honest rating/review on Goodreads. (Hype is a powerful tool when people accidentally stumble across your book someday!)
The next is to re-evaluate how and where you book is being sold. Blurb, although vague and not crystal clear to understand, will allow you to switch your book from being sold on their market, to the Global Retail Network. That means it will be taken off the Blurb marketplace and put on Amazon, Barnes & Nobile, and other retail networks; offering them a discount to buy in bulk. You will make less profit per book, but you will reach a wider audience. (Not many people even know about Blurb, much less go there to buy books!) Goodreads will automatically find these link by ISBN and tie them to their purchase options on their site as well!
As an example, I had to increase my paperback from $10.00 to $12.00 so I made a bit on each copy, and I lowered my eBook price on Amazon KDP to $3.99 to attract the most interest. (I haven’t done KDP Unlimited yet). I make less money, but the important thing is to have more eyes on your book, right?
The last little tidbit I want to give is to embrace your local audience. Go to every place in town that you know sells books or local merchendise and ask if they will carry your book. I have never been met with a no and all of them have worked on a consignment deal: meaning you pick the retail price and they take a few bucks off the top. Someone walking by might just recognize your name, notice your eye-popping cover, or just want to read something someone nearby wrote. Chances are you’ll sell a few, they’ll tell their friends, maybe review it online, maybe re-gift the book, and who knows where it will end up in six months!