The term “self-publishing” is a bit of a misnomer. A substantial number of authors rely on a host of services and companies to assist them in the process. Although it is possible to work directly with a printing company, such a direct relationship is usually only an option for those authors who possess the skills, understanding and time to truly self-publish. If you are new to the world of self-publishing, this article will help you gain a basic understanding of the process tree and the related options.
The original file: You have written your story. All of the development and editing is complete and you are ready to start the publishing process. It is likely that you have your manuscript in Word or some other word processing file type (doc docX , txt etc). In order for that file to be published it must start the “conversion” journey. Conversion is transforming your word processing file to one that can be used for printing a book or for electronic download.
Conversion Print: Digital print companies have specific requirements for files that are used to print books. Most of these requirements are related to the layout specifications like margins, gutter, font and line, paragraph and chapter spacing. Unlike electronic publications, the print specs are less forgiving with no margin for error. The good news is that there are two major players in the print-on-demand book business. Lightning Source (LSI) and Create Space. There may be other options, but for most self-published book authors one of these two will be the best option. The reason is they are known ‘players’ in the industry with tested and proved quality products.
Conversion Ebooks: Ebook conversion is the area that authors are most familiar. Kindle, Apple, Sony, Nook, Kobe are the major players in Ebook reading. Unfortunately, the file types are not identical for all. There are a few different formats used such as mobi and epub. And for Kindle, Nook and Apple each eBook must be uploaded individually to these sites and there are individual contracts, agreements, terms and royalties for each – Apple for example requires all eBooks’ prices end with .99.
Format and Layout: If it were as simple as loading a word doc and receiving instant conversion life would be simple. Both print and electronic however requires some degree of formatting during the process. This formating ensures the file or book “looks” nice and there aren’t blank pages or other things that make the story “look” messy or unprofessional. It can also include the styles related to chapter titles and headings, headers and footers.
Assisted Publishing: The business of helping authors to self-publish is a big business. There are several companies both big and small that an author can enlist. The services and costs vary (see my article POD Costs & Services). An author should understand that with few exceptions, like Create Space, these companies are not printers nor distributors of books. Their job is to do all of the work formating and uploading your book. These companies also tend to separate POD services from Ebook conversion services. As an example, Create Space is in the print business. They offer a service whereas they send your file (for a fee) to the Kindle Direct Team who then does that conversion. There is nothing being done by a publishing assistance company that an author cannot do themselves. I like to think of it like this though. When I say I am going to make you a cake, what I mean is I am going to buy a box of cake mix, add two or three ingredients and place it in the oven. I do not mean I am literally buying all those separate ingredients like flour, baking soda, vanilla extract etc., and putting that all together. Publishing assist companies are pretty much the cake mix.
Distribution Print: Books are “distributed” through a catalog – Ingram being one of the largest. Book sellers use this catalog to either buy books for the brick and mortar stores or to display in their on-line store. You can learn more about DIY at Ingram here. Once your book appears in one of these catalogs it feeds to all the major on-line players within a few weeks. A Publishing assistance company takes care of this for you. This is true of print books but not their electronic counterparts.
Distribution Electronic: As stated each electronic book must be uploaded into the major systems separately. The main reason is that the file types are different and the systems of consumer delivery are different. An author has three options for their electronic books. The first is to conduct all the conversions necessary for where they wish to display their work (Kindle, Nook, iStore, etc), The second is to use a publishing assist company and pay the small fee ($35-$99) for the conversion and distribution. The third is to use Smashwords to convert and distribute the electronic book. Smashwords is a “free” service for conversion and distribution. They do however become the “seller” of your ebook and keep a portion of the royalties (most eBook sales earn a 70% royalty and I believe Smashwords splits it 60 to the author and 10 to themselves).
Royalty Payment and Reporting: Through direct publishing an author will keep the largest share of their sales. Each layer between the author and the sale costs a percentage of the profits. For example upload your eBook to Kindle and you’ll get 70% of the sale, upload through Smashwords who puts it on Kindle and you’ll get 60%. Other Publishing assist companies may keep more. Using any company to assist you creates a delay in sales reporting. The more layers the more delay. If you print copy is purchased say at Barnes and Noble, who purchased it through the Ingram Catalog, who had it printed through your Publishing Assist company, who has a Print on Demand contract with a digital printer – well you can imagine you won’t be aware of that sale for 3 to 6 months and maybe longer.
Summary: The process of self-publishing becomes easier each month. New and exciting option appear and many of the high assistance costs are dropping or disappearing completely. As an Author, the best choice for you is going to be the one that ensures a quality publication that meets readers’ standards. Self publishing costs range from “free” to upwards of $5,000. Do your research (read POD Costs & Services), be honest about your capabilities, and remember sometimes we can be penny-wise and pound foolish.