My Self-Printing Adventures: Frequently Asked Questions

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Back in the day – last November, I believe it was – when I started blogging about my self-printing adventures, it was purely a way to vent. It was never meant to be a comprehensive guide to Print On Demand self-publishing – the only thing I ever promised it would be was a comprehensive guide to my own POD experience. What I didn’t realize at the time was that once you share information on a subject, you are expected to share all of it, even if you don’t know what all of it is. I got emails. Blog comments. According to the Google search terms that brought people to my blog, they were looking for more. Or maybe they were looking for what I’d already given, but they couldn’t find it. So, I’ve made a handy (potentially…) Frequently Asked Questions page which should (hopefully…) save other would-be POD self-publishers the bother. Combined with my self-printing posts, this pretty much tells you everything I know about how I self-printed. Anything else you need you’re just going to have to go and find out for yourself…

To save you the bother of clicking onto another page, here are the most frequently asked questions about my self-printing experience. In future you’ll be able to find these in the Self-Printing drop down menu above.

1. You know you didn’t technically self-publish, right?

Yes. These days, a lot of things get swept under the umbrella of self-publishing that aren’t actually self-publishing. Strictly speaking, ‘self-publishing’ means establishing your own publishing company, purchasing ISBNs, producing a print run of your book and then getting a book distributor to sell them to bookstores. When I say ‘self-publishing’, I’m using it as a shorthand to say, ‘I produced my own paperback book with an ISBN and barcode that is for sale almost exclusively from online retailers’ and you’re just going to have to live with it.

2. How exactly does POD work? I want specifics.

POD stands for Print on Demand (and it’s pronounced ‘P-O-D’ not ‘pod’!) It does exactly what it says on the tin – it prints copies of your book on demand, i.e. as they are ordered. Very little cost is involved and most POD companies will list your book on Amazon.com and for a fee, international Amazons such as Amazon.ca and Amazon.co.uk. There are downsides to this system, of course, namely quality and distribution, i.e. your book will not end up on the shelves of your local bookstore unless you arrange for it to get there. I used Createspace, the Amazon-owned POD service, to publish Mousetrapped. I also have some limited experience of Lulu.com. These are cheap as chips, self-service POD companies. They are others who will charge you a fee up front and take care of everything for you – editing, cover design, distribution – but at the end of the day, your book will still be printed on demand.

All you do is upload your interior file (usually as a PDF, trimmed to size and laid out EXACTLY as you wish it to appear), create a cover using their software or upload one you designed yourself (again, PDF) and purchase (and check!) a proof copy. Once everything has been okayed, your book is ‘published’.

When someone purchases your book, your POD service takes what it cost them to manufacture it out of the price and pays you the rest. If a third party retailer such as Amazon sells a copy, they also take a cut. You are also free to purchase copies of your book at cost price to sell yourself. Royalties are generally paid by cheque on a monthly or quarterly basis.

3. How long does POD publishing take?

It takes about 30 minutes to create an account, fill in the set-up information for your book, upload your files and submit them for publishing. Createspace will then check your files are suitable, i.e. that the page count you entered at the beginning matches the page count you uploaded, that your ISBN appears on the copyright page, that images are embedded, etc. This can take up to 48 hours but it usually happens in less time than that. Once it’s done, you’ll receive an email inviting you to order a proof copy. After ordering, this will print and ship within 1-3 days. Shipping time will of course depend on what shipping method you chose at time of ordering. Once you receive your proof and check it, you click ‘Approve Proof’ which basically means ‘Publish.’ Your book is now available for purchase from your Createspace e-store and you are free to order stock for yourself. Your book’s listing will normally appear on Amazon.com in stages with a full listing up in 2 weeks. (See my Timeline here.)

4. How much would it cost for me to order, say, 1oo copies of my book?

I don’t know, because your book will be completely different to my book. Also, I’m not prepared to tell you my cost price. Every POD site I’ve been on has a book cost calculator on their homepage. Simply plug in your page count, your trim size, your interior type (black and white for just text, color for text and pictures) and if the option is available, softcover or hardback. You should also be able to to calculate your royalties.

Despite the fact that many POD sites offer publishing packages costing hundreds and including things like editing help, cover design, etc. I don’t recommend you avail of these. You have no guarantee of the quality of the work done and it’ll be much cheaper if you do it or source someone else to do yourself. With Createspace the only thing you have to spend money on is the proof copy you’ll check for mistakes before you click ‘Publish’.

The other costs you’ll have to factor in are pre-publication costs such as copyediting and cover design, shipping costs if ordering stock to sell on yourself and extended distribution plans if you want to sell on sites like international Amazons, Barnes and Noble and The Book Depository. On Createspace, extended distribution costs around $39 per title.

5. How much did your ISBN cost?

If you self-publish with Createspace, they will assign you a free ISBN. At the risk of being burned at the stake, I say take the free ISBN. The self-publishing evangelists would recoil in horror at the thought, but I don’t see what the problem is. You’re not relinquishing anything; the book is still yours. You’re just saving yourself the bother of having to buy ISBNs, which you have to buy in bulk – you can’t buy just one. If I was planning to self-publish a series of books then I might have considered it, but my goal was to self-publish as high a quality book as I could for as cheap as possible. Therefore I took the free ISBN. Take yours and get the hell over it.

6. Why doesn’t Createspace publish to Amazon Kindle?

Because it doesn’t. To publish to Amazon’s Kindle store (both US and UK) you need to visit Amazon’s Digital Text Platform (DTP) and upload your cover and interior files. YOU CANNOT USE THE SAME INTERIOR FILES as you did for your printed edition. E-book files have to be formatted correctly or they will be unreadable on e-reading devices. I recommend following Smashword’s Style Guide regardless of your e-book publisher and downloading the .epub version of your book to check everything is okay.

7. Which is better, Lulu or Createspace?

I can’t say because it depends on your needs. For me, Lulu was too expensive and didn’t offer the trim size I was looking for. Createspace’s shipping costs are infamous but even taking these into consideration my unit costs were still significantly cheaper than Lulu. I also liked the idea that Createspace was owned by Amazon and, according to the forum discussions, would have my book listed on Amazon within a couple of days. To date, I’ve had no problem with CS and I’m really happy with both their service and the quality of my book. I’d used them again.

8. How bad are CreateSpace’s international shipping costs?

Bad. The cost of shipping one of my books to me from Createspace’s printing facility in North Carolina is more than the cost of one of my books. Having said that, the cost price of my book is very low. (Lower than Lulu, as I said above.)

Createspace offers 4 shipping speeds: economy, standard, express and priority. Priority is prohibitively expensive and will rob you of any profit you may make on the books, express is too expensive to use for anything other than the proof copy (if you’re trying to get everything done as soon as possible) and economy takes up to three weeks to arrive. I tend to use standard shipping which, while pricey, does not obliterate my profit and only takes 7-10 days – in my experience – to arrive at my house.

There’s a really easy way to predict how much your shipping will cost, even before you publish your book. Shipping costs are the same whether you’re buying your own book from Createspace or someone else’s via their Createspace e-store. All you need to do is log into CS, find a book that’s a similar size and page count to yours, drop however many of them you want in your basket and go as far as the shipping page to find out what the cost is at each shipping speed. Mousetrapped is 5.5 x 8.5, has 232 pages and is for sale on CS here. To find other books, change the last three numbers in the URL at random until you find a book that fits.

9. Does your book say ‘Createspace’ anywhere?’

No. On the bottom left hand corner of the last page is a barcode (different to the barcode CS prints on your back cover), the date it was printed and an address in North Carolina. From this, a discerning reader would be able to figure out that it was self-published, but ‘Createspace’ doesn’t actually appear anywhere on your book. I chose to put ‘Published by Createspace’ on the copyright page of Mousetrapped only because I check these things in other books and wanted to put it in my own. Also I blog about how I self-published so it’s not exactly a secret…!

Your proof copy will have a big bold ‘PROOF’ printed on the last page but obviously this will not appear in your finished book.

10. Self-publishing is the future. All the agents are in bed with the big, bad publishing houses – I like to call them ‘the gatekeepers’ – and they only trash talk self-publishing because they know self-publishing is the future and it’s going to put them all out of jobs. It’s a giant literary industry conspiracy that keeps everyone except Dan Brown, Stephanie Meyer and James Patterson from getting published. No matter how much talent you have you’ll never get published unless you 800,000 Twitter followers, your own talk show and a sob story you can tell to the New York Times. It’s all about money. No one cares about art. The bookshop is dead. In the future-

Let me stop you right there. No, really – stop.

I am the furthest thing from a self-publishing evangelist. You saying things like this tells me that you have a stack of rejection letters in your office and an agent-shaped chip on your shoulder. Self-publishing is obviously growing in popularity but I won’t be curtailing my efforts to get ‘properly’ published or trading my weekly visits to Waterstones for a browse on Lulu.com. If you think agents and publishers are out to get you, I’d recommend you see a mental health professional. It sounds like paranoia.

Read all my self-printing postsRead about Mousetrapped

4 thoughts on “My Self-Printing Adventures: Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Belinda says:

    Brilliant. I want to copy and paste this entire entry and make it my FAQ on my website. I won’t, because that’s total plagiarism, but I’m definitely going to link to you!

  2. Thomas Michalski says:

    I really enjoyed this overview.
    I can’t copy’n’paste it as much since I publish in Germany as well as in German, but I found it worth reading and well written.

    And I very honestly have to say: You had me with #1. Different languages aside, the differences between the various forms of what can possibly run as self publishing (“Selbstverlag”) in Germany are prone to discussion as well.

    Keep up the good work 🙂

    Greetings,
    Thomas

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