First off, let me say congratulations and good for you for embarking on writing and publishing a book – a lot of people talk about it, but few follow through.
Us and Them
The first think that people usually ask me is big publishing house versus self publishing; while there are certainly pros and cons to each, the basic pros to a big publisher come down to money: yours and theirs. The best part about a big house is that you have no outlay (and even a little payment sometimes), and they have a meaningful marketing budget and existing relationships with book sellers. However, most of the profits become theirs (as is true with most investment relationships) and you lose most if not your entire artistic license. Many publishing houses don’t even want to see your illustrations and will make edits on your story over which you have no control. Lastly, it may take a village to raise a child, but it takes an uncle in the business, or a ton of luck and an inordinate amount of time, to get an unsolicited manuscript into the slush pile of a big book house.
Self publishing is the exact opposite. You need a little money to begin, but it is not as much as you would think; the difference is you retain all of the artistic license, but with that comes many decisions, pitfalls and challenges that you have to make to get to the next stage. At the same time, your successes, profits and triumphs are your alone, and I think that seeing your idea come to tangible fruition is the closest experience a man can compare to giving birth. Self publishing is a total blast and while I have met with mild success, the fun has been learning a ton along the way – couple that with the idea that the next time you do it, there will not be so many pitfalls now that you know what you’re doing, and it may be something to think about.
All I did was set up my own LLC and bank account and the rest started to fall into place. I got my hands dirty, to be sure – I paid for the illustrations, a layout person, some marketing, and for the printing I decided on hardback with dust jacket and full drum scans, plus web design, logo, ISBNs. You may not have to do all of this.
Initial costs include getting LLC documents drawn up (you do neot need a lawyer for this – most states have a link to a blank document on the Secretary of State’s website that does the trick), $50 or so to file with the Secretary of State, and the costs if any of setting up a bank account. I can’t stress enough how much you’ll appreciate setting up a separate entity for your book. Expenses, sales tax license, tax reporting, and going to any bookstore to sell is going to require a d/b/a name, address, etc. Plus, writing checks and the rest of itÃ?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½please, please, do yourself a favor and set up an LLC. After that, there is a cost of anywhere from $50-$225 for an ISBN # from Bowker’s (see the end of this article for more information), and the cost of art, layout and printing. It continues to go up from there, but I think you’ll agree that keeping your vision intact is an important part of the book, and this way, you make the decisions.
Hopefully I have sold you on self-publishing. In my experience, there are three distinct stages of self-publishing, each with their own skills and headaches: creation, production, and marketing.
You have your story, but you need to capture the eye of the reader. Keeping with my blissfully optimistic and grassroots approach (I never even considered going to a big publisher), I placed an ad in the local free paper, and after meeting with umpteen artists, I chose a fellow whose art I loved and who I knew I could count on. This should be easier for you because you know people, but as important as the art is knowing you can work with the artist. Mine was a great guy to work with and was open to my input. His vibrant and surreal illustrations were just the right note for my book, and I found a terrific layout person through an owner of a wonderful local bookstore.
My lack of experience and skills were abundantly clear when it came to production. There are myriad ways to attack production, and just as many decisions that are destined to baffle the initiate – overseas (cheap and slow) or domestic printing? Four color printing? What stock? Do you want a matte or glossy dust jacket? How many F&Gs? My advice to anyone thinking about this process isÃ?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½don’t. Find a professional that can help you through the pitfalls. I made several mistakes that cost me time and money in this arena. Another thing I will mention with children’s books, they usually are 32 pages and any additional amount has to be in blocks of 8 for the printers. Try to break your story into pages mentally and determine the flow so that no pages are unintentionally light and others are “text heavy.”
One other question I get often if whether or not to print overseas in China or in the USA. If you are patriotic (I printed at Worzalla in Wisconsin) or in a hurry (it is usually much speedier to remain stateside), stay here. If not, C&C and Imago are 2 printing Companies in China that are often used and they offer about a 15-20% cost savings compared to printing in the US. I have heard also that Canada offers savings, but I think they are diminishing at this point because of the dollar’s weakness. You decide. Call around! The beauty is, it is your decision.
Once your book is printed, another completely separate talent is necessary: how to get your book where your readers will be able to buy them. More questions arise – Bookstores or internet (or both)? How to get publicity, distribution channels, advertising, promotion, and the end results you want with the budget you have – these are difficult decisions for anyone, but when you’ve invested a small fortune and practically given birth to a new part of your life, these issues are enough to keep you awake at night. My advice again is, find professional help. I found a wonderful publicist who has shown me the ropes. I would also say tenacity is a key to any grassroots book endeavor. Unlike the churn and burn mentality of the big publishers, the small press has the luxury of time to keep Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½pressing’ on.
The best tips I have picked up since getting started on this project came from joining groups. The Small Publishers of North America (SPAN) have been very helpful for getting a foot in the door with the ABA, Baker & Taylor for national distribution, and have a newsletter and contact lists that have really paid for the membership. If you haven’t looked into it, I would recommend it. There is also a local one for me, the Colorado Independent Publishers Association which has been great for networking and they have awards that help winners get in the door at a few of the reticent national bookstore chains.
Lastly, when you get it finished, another way to get your name out is submitting to awards – I know the Horn and the Caldecott seem like long shots, but there are so many others, like the Jane Addams, the Christopher, The Ezra Jack Keats, the International Reading Association’s Children’s, the PEN Center USA West, The American Book Award, The Paterson Prize, the SCBWI Golden Kite, The Ippy…plus locals. No better way to get your name out there than throw your hat in these rings. I gave them to you in chronological order for entry deadlines (I think), so if you hit the web, you can find information about each one as I have.
I used a 5×7″ 4 color postcard, but you can do anything you want depending on your budget. If you decide to go all out, leave the back of the postcard blank and do a large number so you can do customized messages on the back for mailings, etc. I would have to say though that it is a lot of money to do on your own. One way to get around it is to ask your first signing opportunity at a store, co-sponsor the printing to cut your cost in half. Then it is a win/win, because the bookstore gets advertising and hopefully more sales, and you get a postcard you can use forever!
I went big on the web designer and is has not paid off so far. I thought it would drive sales and the fact that I have Credit Card capabilities is great, but it has cost me 10 times more to set it up and maintain it than it has brought in (no exaggeration). I think a website is a great idea, but again, if you want to see how they sell for a few months with a very basic site and then re-evaluate, I think it may make some sense and save some cash.
The first thing to do is get an ISBN #, which you do by filling out the application at this address:
The Publisher Registration Fee is $19.95 for 10 ISBNs; and the ISBN Prefix Block Regular Processing Fee for 10 ISBNs is $225 (ouch).
After that, go to http://www.isbn.org to view the Bookland EAN Bar Code Film Master Suppliers list. Contact one of these suppliers in order to have an EAN bar code made from the ISBN you are assigning. You may give to your printer for placement on your product.
The upside is as soon as you get these, (usually a few days, by email) then it is free to sign up for Bowker’s Books in Print and the LOC number. Once you have assigned an ISBN to your book, it is critical that you submit your titles to the R.R. Bowker directory. You register at www.bowkerlink.com.
Now, you have to get a Preassigned Control Number (PCN) for the book, and you need to give them the ISBN to get it. They will keep a file of all of your biographical information forever! Go to www.loc.gov to get the information, and send a complimentary copy of your book the best edition of the book to:
Library of Congress
Cataloging in Publication Division
101 Independence Ave., S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20540-4320
Please note that this is a different division than the Copyright Office – you need to do a separate application (that costs money) for copyright deposit and registration.
There are many ways to do this – if you want to be hands off, no invoicing, Credit Card processing, a toll free number – go to a fulfillment house and they’ll do it for $3/book. Ouch.
You can try www.shipping-and-handling.com, that might make sense for you too, but it is still expensive.
If you are willing to handle it yourself, make an invoice using Microsoft excel, have the books delivered to your house, give out an email address and go for it. As far as USPS versus the world, go USPS and send it MEDIA MAIL. If you have to stand in line for a few minutes a week, it sure beats the lost profit that you incur with Fedex, UPS or DHL, or even mailing at Mail Boxes Etc.
I am sure that you realize that this is just the tip of the iceberg, but it should provide you with some guidance and hopefully save you some money — Happy writing!