Thursday, June 10, 2010

POD and Self-Publishing

I've had a ton of people ask me about self-publishing, and about CreateSpace in particular, since they're who I used for my grammar book.

First off, WHY self-publish? There are good reasons to and very bad reasons to. Thinking you'll be a sudden millionaire is right up there with why NOT to. (Ain't happening.)

A few generalizations about self-publishing:

-Non-fiction has a far better shot at having sales than fiction does

-Bookstores will almost never stock your book

-As a result, your chances of selling much are pretty darn slim

-You'll sell more if you have a strong platform (more on that later)

-With the current POD (print-on-demand) technology, writers no longer have to put thousands of dollars into printing a pallet of books that they then have to hand-sell from their garage.

-POD makes it possible for ONE copy to be printed at a time and then shipped to the reader.

-Self-publishing makes the most sense when you have a book that has a tiny niche and is unlikely to be picked up by a regular house.

-You get a higher percentage of the profits, but since you're selling far fewer copies, that may not mean much. (A big percentage of $100 is way lower than a small percentage of $100,000.)

Your Platform
This is your base for getting readers. It's how well people know you, what your expertise is, how big your media visibility is, and more.

My friend Lu Ann Staheli has ghost-written two memoirs that had built-in platforms: the first for the Herrin family (the story of their conjoined twins) and the second for Jim Karol, a popular mentalist known as the "Psychic Madman." In the latter case, Jim can sell the book at the back of the room after his performances. He can sell them on his website after appearing on Leno or other TV shows. He doesn't NEED to be in bookstores.

My POD Experience
As many know, I have one self-published book. Here's its history and my experience:
I was asked to write a grammar and punctuation guide by several friends (readers, writers, and other friends) who regularly shot me off e-mails asking if this or that was correct. More times than I can count, I got responses along the lines that, wow, you can explain kooky grammar and punctuation rules in a way that makes sense.

Finally several friends suggested that I put it all into a book. (And then they could just grab it off the shelf and not e-mail me.)

This was
not a project Covenant, my regular publisher, would have had any interest in whatsoever. I knew that. I also knew that this wouldn't be something I'd want to go really big and push at the national market; they already have plenty of grammar guides out there. This was to be a labor of love for those who knew me as the Word Nerd. Fellow writers might want it. I could sell copies at conferences I spoke at. I wasn't hoping to sell thousands of copies.

Self-publishing made the most sense.

I went with CreateSpace. There are a ton of other POD companies out there, so you'll want to do your research before going with any of them. One thing that was attractive to me about CreateSpace (which is owned by Amazon) is that
I kept the copyright. Some POD companies want to take it from you (as well as the one for your next work). Not something I wanted or had to give, since I'm already under contract for other things with Covenant.

Some POD companies typeset the book for you (make it LOOK like a book, with the right trim size, headers, and all that), while others make you upload typeset files. CreateSpace requires the latter.

You can design your own cover, but I didn't want mine to look totally lame (self-pubbed books are known for
looking self-published), so I hired a graphic designer (and I love how my cover turned out).

With CreateSpace, after you upload your interior and cover PDFs, they take a couple of days to approve your files (basically to make sure you didn't mess something up). Once the files are approved, you order a proof copy. When that arrives, you look through it and make sure it's exactly what you want it to be.

The site is more accurate now with stating how long each step takes. More than a year ago when I was doing my book, I figured I could easily have copies in hand for the LDStorymakers conference. But approving the files took twice as long as they said. And then some silly techno-snafoo made the files get UNapproved. So I had to upload again and wait again.

I ended up with three different proofs as a result of different issues, all due to trying to get the thing done in time. (And there's still a typo, which KILLS me. It got through because I didn't take an extra day to have one more person proof it for me.)

Trying to get it all done in a short space was a nightmare, one I don't recommend. But, after it's set up, it runs itself.

As for pricing: They have a formula to help you figure that out.
You pick the retail price, and you do that based on their cut per book, how long the book is (there's an additional cut they take per page) and so on. Once you figure out how much THEY will take from each book, then you decide what to charge. (You can go back and forth on the site several times putting in different numbers to figure it out.) It's a definite balancing act: how much can you safely charge so people will buy the thing but so that you'll still make some semblance of a profit?

They have options for direct deposit, which makes life really easy. They pay royalties after you get at least $20 earned, and the money is paid the month AFTER that $20 accrues, to account for any returns or whatever. (So at the end of June, I'll get any unpaid royalties for May.)

One great benefit is that CreateSpace lists you on Amazon. I get about half the royalty I would compared to if someone were to buy the book via my CreateSpace store front, but since NOT A SINGLE COPY has been purchased that way, I'm not going to complain. People know and trust the Amazon name and don't know that CreateSpace is the same company.

You can sell copies through your own website, provided, of course, that you order enough inventory and are willing to make shipments yourself. And yes, you can get your own books at a huge discount, so even with getting orders and shipping them, you can still make a small profit.

They also have what's called the Expanded Distribution Channel, where other entities (like schools, libraries, etc.) become aware of your book who otherwise wouldn't. If you opt into that channel, you'll get a few more sales, but the cut you get is even smaller.

Would I do it again? Totally.

In fact, I'm planning on having a second edition of my grammar book out by next year's conference, and I had another project I was considering it for.


Kimberly said...

Deliciously informative post, Annette. This seems to be the hot topic at the moment and I love getting insights from someone I respect.

Charlie Moore said...

Your right about low sales, Annette. I have a book published by PublishAmerica (most people identify them as self-publishing, or worse), even though they view themselves as a traditional publisher. And 12 short stories on a now defunct venue called Amazon Shorts (also hosted by Amazon). I was given the options of moving these short stories to the Kindle store, which I did.

I believe it should be said, also, that using a self publishing route for a specific piece, if done correctly, will not hurt works one has published traditionally. You and others are proof of that.


Karlene said...

Great post. And I love your new header.

Michelle said...

Thanks for writing this up...really informative.

Melissa J. Cunningham said...

Great post and I LOVE the new look!

Mark "LDS Music" Hansen said...

I'm not a writer, but I've used CreateSpace for both of my music CD's, and I'll continue to use them in the future.

In music, there are many drawbacks to POD self-publishing, but in the final analysis, I went with it because the entry price for every other option was prohibitive. I either do it POD, or I don't do it at all.

Faced with those options, the choice is easy to make.


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