Frequently Asked Questions About Self-Publishing

In this post I will be collecting the most frequently asked questions I receive about self-publishing. This covers topics including:

  • Traditional vs. Self-publishing
  • Is hybrid publishing right for me?
  • Amazon vs. IngramSpark
  • Should I make an eBook?
  • How to fund a book?
  • Book launch and promotion strategies

1. Should I self-publish or traditionally publish?

To know which publishing path is right for you takes an understanding of the market you are entering, how it operates, and how it is motivated by business and profits just like all other companies out there. Let’s look at traditional publishing.

Traditional publishers, especially the large publishing houses, acquire many titles a year. Most of these titles are considered B-List titles. Though, the strategy is to acquire many titles with the bet that at least a few will be bestsellers. Once your book is acquired by a publisher, it enters the publisher’s pipeline where it is passed from editor, art director, agent, and anyone else on the team. It takes, on average, 1.5 to 2 years for a book to get to the market. In the meantime, an author is paid an advance on the books. Once enough copies of your book are sold to cover the advance, the author begins to receive royalties. All of these payments are spilt between the author and their literary agent. The amount of support an author receives for marketing and promotion depends on the publisher. Most traditionally published authors I know say there is little suppor or communication with the publisher as to how many copies are sold or what marketing efforts are being done for the book. If it is a small publishing house that acquires less titles a year you may get more support from your team. But as an author, always expect to participate in the book promotion process and not let the publisher do all the work.

There is much more control for the author with self-publishing. There is more control over the timeline, so that your book doesn’t have to take 1.5 to 2 years to reach the market. There is more control over the money, as you are not splitting advances or royalties with a literary agent or a publisher. There is more control over the quality, especially with resources more readily available to produce a high quality book. This is definitely great for someone who is self-motivated. Self-publishing is often self-financed, no publisher advances involved. While there is no advance, the royalties are much higher. With options like Amazon and IngramSpark, it is very affordable to print on demand and not have to pay for large print runs (more on this in question #3).

2. What is Hybrid Publishing and is it right for me?

Hybrid publishers are companies that print and distribute your book, but it is self-financed unlike traditional publishers who pay authors advances. The hybrid publisher is playing the role of the traditional publisher without assuming the financial risk, that falls on the author. On the other hand, the author does not split royalties with the publisher or literary agent. Sometimes, hybrid publishers are called “Vanity Presses”, in that they are not selective of what titles they print, so they are not as respected as traditional publishing houses within the publishing industry. Advantages of a hybrid publisher, especially if you are a children’s book author, is their connection to artists and illustrators, editors, cover or graphic designers, and other resources. Also, the hybrid publisher may offer the print run, in addition to listing it on Amazon and making it available as an eBook. Some questions to ask your hybrid publisher before making any payments include: who retains publication rights and copyrights, do they offer illustrator/editor/Graphic designer services, are there any fees aside from printing costs (such as processing fees, reading fees, etc), will they provide an ISBN number, what is their editing process, what marketing support do they provide, will it be listed on Amazon, will it be made into an eBook? I always tell authors to do their research, and go into it smart!

One reliable hybrid publisher is Mascot Books located in Herndon, VA. I have had several friends publish through Mascot and they have been very pleased. I have not used them myself, but I think their reputation speaks for itself.

3. Amazon vs. IngramSpark?

Amazon and IngramSpark are both print on demand (POD) services. This means that books are only printed and shipped as people order them online. This is a great option for an author who either cannot afford, or doesn’t want to to, print a large order of books. It is well known that bookstores do no get along with Amazon. After all, Amazon has taken a lot of business from traditional bookstores by driving discounted online booksales and dominating the self-publishing market.

Amazon has over 65 million prime members. 85% of all ebooks are consumed via Amazon Kindle. Over 50% of all ebooks consumed are self-published, and Amazon owns over 50% of the self-publishing market space. With such a huge market share, it is imperative for a self-published author to list their book on Amazon! There is so much potential in book sales, and more control over profits. Before 2018, you would have been able to publish on Amazon through CreateSpace self-publishing services. In 2018, Amazon acquired CreateSpace, and now it is called Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing. Through KDP, you can offer your book as a paperback and list it as an eBook. Once you make your book available, Amazon will print and fulfill orders for you. In addition, there is an option called KDP Select where Amazon retains exclusive selling rights to your eBook, which for most authors is not a problem. In essence, Amazon is a self-publisher’s best friend.

If Amazon is a bookstore’s worst enemy, than listing your book on Amazon alone will be of no use to getting your book on shelves. Your best bet to building relationships with bookstores is to use IngramSpark.

Ingram, the parent company of IngramSpark, is one of the largest book distribution and wholesale companies. This means that Ingram works on behalf of traditional publishers to distribute books to bookstores and retail or wholesale chains such as Costco or Barnes & Noble. When you self-publish through IngramSpark, bookstores will receive similar retail discounts that Ingram offers traditional publishers. This gives your self-published book the chance to get into a bookstore. Notice that I say you have THE CHANCE. Understand that bookstores have a limited amount of shelf space for book titles, and they need to make sure they are stocking their shelves with titles that will sell. Bookstores have to pay the bills, too. The best bet you have for getting your book on the shelf is to increase demand for it. This comes down to marketing and promotion (more of this in #6).

4. Hard copy or eBook?

When considering hard copies or ebook, I always tell authors to think of their reader first. How will your reader be experiencing this book? If it is an adult audience, an eBook is just fine. Imagine your reader breezing through it on their tablet during their morning commute on the train. If it is a child audience (children’s book), they will most likely be reading hard copies with parents and teachers and will probably not read an eBook version. With this in mind, make it available in a way that your reader will find most helpful.

Another factor to consider with eBooks is cost. eBooks are priced very low, so you will not be making a lot of money per sale. Though, because of the low cost, you have an ability to sell your book in mass. That is something to think about when planning a sales strategy, how to plan for mass sales of an eBook.

One of the greatest challenges authors have with publishing their book is funding the project. Self-publishing has never been more affordable as print on demand is becoming more available. I recommend to authors that just want to start, but cannot afford to make it available as a hardcover, start with an eBook and test the market demand for your book.

5. How to fund a project?

There are various ways to fund your book project, and I have spoken with many self-published authors who have been very pleased with their return on investment. Here are a few ways you can fund your project:

  • Self-fund your project. The author pays for everything upfront. Costs may include illustrator, graphic designer, editor, ISBN number, copyright, and fees. This can cost anywhere from $1,000-$3,500 just to create your book (not including printing costs). This is a good strategy if you KNOW you can sell enough copies to make a return on investment. This is essentially how traditional publishing companies work. They invest in your book by paying the author an advance, knowing they will make a return on that investment through book sales. If this is the route you will take, I recommend authors develop a marketing plan and set up pre-orders to begin making a profit right away.
  • Crowdfund. Not everyone has the money to self-fund a project. I know I didn’t. I chose to crowdfund my project using Kickstarter. Kickstarter has a proven track record of fundraising publishing projects. Though, there are other crowdfunding options such as Indiegogo, or GoFundMe. The key is to set your funding goal low, enough to complete orders and cover fees. Here is a helpful article on Crowdfunding strategies.
  • Competitions or Grants or Sponsorships. This option is not as easily available, but if you plan it right, it is a viable option for funding your book. The SCBWI offers several competitions with financial rewards that can help fund your book. It is worth seeing if there are any society’s or literary guilds in your genre that offer similar benefits. If you are writing a nonfiction book or community based book, it may be worth looking into grants or sponsorships. For instance, if your book is about a certain illness, getting a sponsorship from a local hospital or organization in exchange for exposure in your book, and exposure at all your speaking engagements is one form of funding your book. Get creative with ways to finance your book! The only limit is the ceiling you place on yourself.

6. Book Launch

Here are things no one ever tells you about being an author: how to plan a book launch, how to market your book and promote it for the long game. In essence, your book is a product just like a toy is a product. You have to sell your product! Now you are not just a writer, but an authorpreneur. Before planning marketing, I want you to really consider your reader. How will they interact with your book? Where will they most likely find it, and how (a friend referred them, Amazon search, a blog reviewed it, their doctor recommended it, a school book fair, on a podcast, etc.)? How will they read it, eBook or hard copy? Will they be likely to tell others about it? You want to help make every single step easy for them! How do we do that?

  • Pre-launch. Consider your pre-launch as an awareness campaign. This is a period of building awareness, educating your audience about your book, and essentially priming them for sales. Take inventory of the relationships you have: friends, family, colleagues, community, associations, universities, etc. Get the news out to as many people as you can, and ask them to share with their networks as well. Talk about the book writing process, the editing process, explain why this book matters to you, and all the things about your book!
  • Book launch. I tell authors that this is a time to celebrate all the hard work they have put into the book, and invite readers to celebrate with them. There are so many ways to do this! Host a book launch party at your local bookstore or library with an author reading. Do a virtual book launch party on Facebook live (if you have a facebook group) with giveaways. Do something at your house and invite your closest friends, family and supporters to just celebrate with you! I have an acquaintance that wrote a book about pet adoption. She threw a book launch party at a local gift shop, had her books on sale, had the local bakery make dog treats to sell, invited the fire department to talk about their service dog, and made the entire event a celebration of pet adoption. She the invited the local news crew and received press coverage for it. Be smart! Everyone likes a celebration!
  • Post-launch. Once all the hype from the pre-launch and book launch dies down, you are left alone to promote your book. This is a good time to seek out author visits at local schools, events, host workshops, and get face-to-face time with your audience. Approach events where you can present. Connect with facebook groups to host live facebook Q&As. Connect with podcasts. Pitch local news networks that are always looking for local businesses and talents to present. Always eep asking for reviews on Amazon to drive your book up the lists, and always ask readers to share it with friends. For some authors, it is enough to simply make their book available to readers. For other authors, they are very book sale and goal minded. You are the number one driver of sales to your book!

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