Self publishing has many pros and cons. A few years ago, it was barely even thinkable that the average person could afford to self publish a book. Now it is a more than realistic goal. As I write this, there are basically two ways of achieving your self publishing dreams.
Dedicated Self Publishing Companies
There are companies like Blurb and Lulu that enable you to download software which you can use to write your book, then you save a copy of the finished manuscript, upload it to their website and they will then print you as many copies as you would like. This model is called print-on-demand, so it enables you to print as many or as few copies as you wish. If you just want a book to give as a gift to a few friends, you can. If you have grand dreams of selling through the large distributors, then you can print several hundred copies. If you just want to test the waters gradually, then you can do several small print runs to make sure you sell what you print and don’t end up with a living room or garage full of books you cannot shift. The software is easy to use, offering ready-made templates with a mix of text and photo boxes, or the ability to design your own layout for each page. You can then just drag and drop photos or text from your computer into the areas where you want it to appear. This of course has huge benefits compared to working with a publisher: you can design the book just as you envisage it and write exactly what you want. The software also guarantees that what you produce will be ready to print, so all those technical issues like ‘bleed’ and margins, are set correctly so the printed book will appear as it looked on the screen. The downside is that you are responsible: if the text is badly written or the diagrams make no sense, there is no editor to point this out to you. You can look at hiring the services of a freelance editor or designer to help you get a professional looking product, but these will of course add to the costs.
However, once you have created your book, you are on your own when it comes to selling it. This is undoubtedly the hardest part of self publishing. It is up to you to persuade shops to stock it, or to tell the world that they can buy it from your website, or to take a stall in your local market and try to sell it – whatever you decide! Unless you happen to already have several thousand followers on your social networking page, you can expect the process of selling your book to be very hard work.
The other problem with self publishing is the finance. You have to pay for the production costs and print run yourself, so you are potentially outlaying a lot of money and, unless you have a guarantee that the books will sell, you may lose this money. The per-book print cost tends to be a lot higher with the print-on-demand option, so this will have a big impact on the economics of setting your book price. If you have decided to enlist the help of professionals in the layout and editing process, then this will also be a cost that you have to pay, regardless of whether or not you make any sales. Of course there is an up-side to this risk. If you manage to get the sales and marketing right and have worked out the economics correctly, then you will enjoy all of the profits that you make.
Self Publishing via the DIY Route
I mentioned that the print costs of print-on-demand are often higher than if you were to do an independent print run. Well, you can choose to do everything yourself. If you are comfortable using professional design software, like adobe InDesign, then you can get your book laid out ready for print and send it to a conventional printer to do a large print run. As with professional publishing companies, you can determine the size of your print run so that the cost per book is brought down as low as possible. This will require a significant size of print run though – very likely over 1000, so unless you can easily think of at least several hundred people who you already know will buy the book, think very carefully about this option. If you can make the sales, then the savings on printing will make your profits looks healthy, but if you are only going to sell 200 copies, then you run the risk of being left with 800+ copies to house and probably your 200 copies will not cover the cost of producing the book. This is a slightly higher risk option, but as with all risks, the higher the risk, the higher the potential rewards. Think carefully when you decide on the print run: it’s no good saying that 2000 books will only cost me £5 per book, so I’ll go with that. Think beyond – how are you going to sell 2000 books? Are there 2000 people out there who will want to make your beadwork or jewellery designs? Be realistic about this or you may end up spending £10,000 on your print run and, even if you sell your books at £20 each, if you only sell 200, you will only receive £4,000, so you will lose £6,000.
If you are choosing to take either self publishing route, then make sure you produce something that is as professional as possible. Your photos should be of absolute top quality – it is worth hiring a professional photographer. Your design and layout should also look professional, so if you are not an expert in this field, then hire the services of someone who is. You may also want to get a freelance copy editor or proof reader to check the manuscript for errors before you go to print.
Financing a Self Publishing Project
If you happen to have a lot of spare savings that you are looking to invest, then you can use these to pay the up-front costs of your book. If you have managed to get the financial calculations right, then you should be able to make some profits to return to your savings. However, if you are not in the fortunate position of having spare cash of your own lying around, then you might want to consider a couple of options. Essentially self publishing a book is a business, so you could consider approaching a bank or an investor for a business loan. They will want to see the financial plan, with some proof that you are going to be able to sell all the copies you are going to be printing before being prepared to invest in the project.
More and more people are turning to crowdfunding. There are websites set up for this. The idea is to set a target amount of money to be raised, then ask individuals to each invest a small sum of money. In return for their investment, they will receive something. This type of funding is ideal for a self publishing project. You can set different amounts of donations, so for example, someone investing £20 may receive a copy of the book (essentially their £20 will be equivalent to just buying the book). For a donation of £30 someone may receive a signed copy of the book, for £40 you may receive a piece of beadwork from the book as well as a copy of the book, or a free bead kit with the book and so on. The more creative you can be with the benefit that will be received for the investment, the better. If this works, then you will not only be covering your costs, but you will also have a guaranteed set of sales up front and possibly a good idea of how many sales you will make, which will help you to decide on the size of the print run.