Self-Published Books in Bookshops: An Alternative View

Recently I blogged about how I believe, all things being equal, self-publishers shouldn’t bother with brick-and-mortar bookstores. If you talk to almost any mega-seller, uber successful self-published author – the kind who has made it into the headlines – bookstores don’t tend to even be on their radar, and why would they? One or two non-fiction exceptions aside, even the best outcome is just not worth the effort required. For novels, I just don’t see the point all. You can go back and read that post here. 

But they ARE exceptions. The two most common are (1) you have a book with a local interest, (2) you have a book that only really works in physical format, e.g. a photography book. So today I’ve asked Lorna Sixsmith, an Irish writer whose books fall into the category of These Really Should Be For Sale in Shops, to tell you about her experience.

Welcome to the blog, Lorna. Tell us first a bit about your books. 

Thank you Catherine, my books are funny non-fiction farming books. Would You Marry a Farmer?, How to be a Perfect Farm Wife and An Ideal Farm Husband may sound slightly like marriage manuals of the past but they aren’t. They show what farming life is like and give plenty of tips for impressing your other half, your in-laws and your neighbours, all with tongue in cheek humour. The feedback I’m getting is that one person in the family starts to read bits aloud and before long, they are chatting about how similar they are to the circumstances in the book – usually with lots of laughter. That’s partly why they sell better as paperbacks than ebooks, they are used like coffee table books to dip into at times too. Those interested in social history enjoy them too – both for the insight into farming life but also for the research into farming lives in the past.

How did you self-publish them, i.e. did you use CreateSpace to create your stock?

While my books are available on Amazon’s CreateSpace, my own stock of books were printed locally by Naas Printing. It is a risk doing a large print run (and I know some authors use CreateSpace, FeedaRead and other print on demand services and order by the boxful) but I ran a crowdfunding campaign for my first book Would You Marry A Farmer?. It gave me the confidence to do a print run of a thousand books.

Why approach bookstores? Was that always part of your plan?

No, not at all. I had planned to sell my first book from my website and from some local farm and gift shops, and perhaps a few local bookshops. I hoped to sell the first print run and thought that would be it. Indeed, I was so unprepared that when Ryan Tubridy [ed note: host of one of the most listened to radio shows in the country] interviewed me about the first book a couple of weeks after publishing it, I never thought of contacting bookshops to say “Ryan Tubridy is interviewing me, would you like to stock my book?” Ridiculously daft especially as it was so near to Christmas. I contacted Argosy Books and Easons, Ireland’s two wholesalers, in the new year. Argosy stocked it from February and Easons from May. Once I realised that my books would sell reasonably well, it made sense to increase sales by getting my books stocked in bookshops.

Please take us through the steps involved into getting into (Irish) bookstores. 

I was lucky in that I didn’t have to visit bookshops on an individual basis as the two main wholesalers stocked my books. However, that is only half the battle as bookshop owners still need to know about your book to order it from the wholesalers. I relied on press coverage and direct emails to bookshops to increase awareness and orders.

I’d suggest that anyone thinking of trying to get bookshops to stock their book, get to know the staff in local bookshops while you’re still writing it. Buy books in there and converse with them occasionally on social media.

What do you need for the bookshop to say yes to stocking your book? It must be professionally edited and formatted with an attractive cover and well written blurb. It really should be almost impossible for anyone to tell the difference between it and any traditionally published book in that genre. I didn’t quite achieve that with my first book (my blurb and back cover was a bit lacking) but am pleased with my latter books. The book also requires an ISBN (purchased via Nielsen) and a barcode.

You also need to know that your book will sell. Bookshops won’t want it taking up shelf space if it isn’t selling. It has to earn its keep. You’ll increase your chances of getting it stocked if you can say that you have press coverage coming up such as an interview on local radio or a feature in the local paper.

When contacting either of the wholesalers, you’ll need a marketing plan with evidence of existing sales and press coverage to date. I had heard that existing sales of 250 books was a helpful starting point when approaching the wholesalers but I’m not sure if that is true or not. The chief buyer at Argosy had heard my interview with Joe Duffy [ed note: another very popular Irish radio host] – Liveline devotes one programme to self published authors just before Christmas each year – and said she was going to contact me which was nice to hear.

Authors should be prepared regarding their pricing. Wholesalers take 55% and in my experience,  individual bookshops take 35%. I think 35% is fair, they need to make money for stocking your book on their shelves and creating the sale. It’s important to know your costs so you can work out your profit if you sell via the wholesalers. There’s no point in getting the sales if selling them at a loss.

What are the advantages in being in bookshops?

Some believe that vying for shelf space in bookshops is a waste of time for self published authors and yes, perhaps many would be better concentrating on increasing sales on the online platforms such as Amazon and Kobo. Much depends on the genre though. I suspected, and as it turns out I was correct, that my books would sell in much higher numbers in paperbacks than as ebooks. My sales on CreateSpace far exceed the ebook sales.

While it is nice to be able to say your book is available in all bookshops, it’s just vanity if they don’t sell. It can be hard to get attention as your books won’t be placed on a centre table or within a 3 for 2 offer. Hence, you need readers to go in looking for your book (remember that people tend to need to hear about something seven times before they buy!) as well as browsers finding it on the shelf.

Having your books in bookshops gives them kudos and credibility. Some people do buy on impulse when they see a book in a shop, they like being able to flick through before making the purchase. A lot of readers expect to see books in bookshops. Not all like reading them as ebooks.

Approximately half of my sales have been via the wholesalers. The other half have been sales from my website, in gift shops, UK farm shops and I take a stand at the Ploughing Championships each year. I’ve been lucky with getting interviews during the Ploughing week each year which really helps.

What are the disadvantages (if any)?

I’m not sure if I’d describe them as disadvantages but there are certainly things that authors need to be aware of before they rush into it. No author wants to be left with 500 books in their attic for evermore.

The retail price of your books needs to be comparable to traditionally published books in that genre but if printing books in small volumes, it may be a challenge to make a profit if giving wholesalers 55%.

There is an element of risk in preprinting a large volume of books but there’s nothing like making you work on your marketing than seeing boxes of books in your hallway or spare bedroom. Just don’t print so many that the task seems impossible.

Much depends on the genre of your books – if you believe that your crime or romance novels will sell well as ebooks, then concentrate on marketing them as such.

If stocking bookshops individually, there’s a lot of work involved in maintaining records, invoicing, delivering books (as well as the cost of delivery). I stock some farm shops in the UK on an individual basis and some gift shops here and yes, it does take time. I tend to supply on a minimum order (as it’s just not worthwhile supplying a shop with three books given the postage costs) and on a sale or return basis. I’ve only have to take books back on a couple of occasions.

Payment isn’t as prompt as, for example, with Amazon. It’s a minimum of three months before payment is received from the wholesalers and it can vary with individual shops. Yes, sometimes I’ve waited up to nine months for payment but there aren’t any bad debts so far. To be fair, I’m not the best at sending reminders and some bookshop owners prefer to sell the vast majority of the books before they pay.

How does the profit margin compare to online sales (both of POD paperbacks and e-books)? Is it worth it?

I sell so few as ebooks that I just look on those sales as little monthly bonuses. I make the most profit on sales from my website. I’m currently offering free shipping on all website purchases.Sales to gift shops and farm shops deliver about 20%  more profit than sales on CreateSpace and sales to wholesalers deliver about 20% less than CreateSpace sales. However, of course, I don’t have any work to do with CreateSpace sales – no printing, no posting, and this is an advantage. There’s no risk of returns either.

For me, it has been worth it with about half of my sales coming from nationwide bookshops. Total sales to date are almost 3,000 of Would You Marry a Farmer?, almost all of the print run of 2,000 copies of How to be a Perfect Farm Wife have been sold and over 1,000 of the newest book An Ideal Farm Husband.

What advice would you give to a self-publisher wondering if they should approach bookstores?

Be prepared. Ensure your book is as professional as it possibly can be. Do your sums – know your retail price and what margin you’re prepared to give them. If possible, tell them about upcoming press coverage. Being a familiar face in the bookshop should help your case too.

If they say it’s not for them, don’t take offence. Be polite and gracious.

See if you can collaborate with other authors for any events in bookshops. One that worked well for me was arranging a “Rural Reads” evening in a local bookshop with other authors of rural / farm related books, we also secured an hour long interview on the local radio show’s farming programme.


Lorna’s books Would You Marry A Farmer?, How to be a Perfect Farm Wife and An Ideal Farm Husband are available in all good Irish bookshops, Amazon and from her website. Shipping is currently free worldwide on all purchases from her website.

Thanks, Lorna!

A Visit From The Book Designer (and Good News for Self-Publishers!)

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Regular readers of this blog or those of you who have ploughed your way through all 120,000 words of Self-Printed will know that I’m a big fan of The Book Designer and the man behind it, Joel Friedlander (@JFBookman on Twitter). It’s a fantastic resource for self-publishers and it always makes for interesting reading too. Joel also runs monthly e-book design awards, which offer a sometimes wonderful, sometimes… um, not so wonderful (ahem) insight into the world of self-published e-book cover design. Recently he launched Book Design Templates for self-publishers, and he’s here today to tell us more about them. Welcome, Joel! 

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Me: Please explain to us what exactly are your Book Design Templates, and how self-published authors can use them. 

Joel: They are Microsoft Word template files specifically designed for authors who want to do their own book formatting. A template file is simply a pre-formatted layout used to make new documents with the same design. There are 9 different designs, and each is available in standard book sizes as well as in ebook versions.

The templates allow you to quickly create a book interior because all the basic work has been done for you. The templates are sized properly and contain all the Word style definitions needed to format the text in your book. Not only that, they come with the fonts you need as well as an extensive Formatting Guide that walks you through the process of getting your text into the template.

M: You know there are self-publishers reading this now who can’t imagine why they’d need to use one of these templates. Here’s your chance to convince them… 

J: Well, let me tell you Catherine, that there are a lot of authors who need something like this. The reason I say that is because I see a lot of self-published books, and most of them contain formatting errors. And I don’t mean errors like forgetting to put in your chapter title, I mean errors in book construction.

Now there’s no reason an author can’t do the same thing herself. What the template accomplishes for you is to make sure your file is set up properly, that it looks good, that you’re using appropriate fonts, and that your book will conform to industry standards. So we’ve taken care of most of the work for you, and at a very reasonable price. I think that’s pretty cool.

M: Your website, TheBookDesigner.com, is a treasure trove of advice for the self-publishing author (that I recommend to other self-publishers all the time). What do you think is the ONE thing self-publishers need to know about producing a professional-looking print book? 

J: If you want to create a package that gives your book the best chance of success, there are things you can do. First, for your cover, I strongly recommend hiring a professional cover designer, and this expense will be well worthwhile.

For those authors who plan to produce their own book interiors, you’ll need to learn about how books are put together, where each part is supposed to be in relation to other parts of the book, how we separate sections and number pages, and all the minutia of book construction.

Your other choices are to hire a book designer to format your interior, or you might want to take a look at our book templates, which take care of most of this stuff for you.

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M: Once upon a time I didn’t understand why self-publishers would start Chapter 1 on page 1 when, presumably, there were traditionally published books on their shelves at home that they could pick up and refer to for guidance at any time. But since then I’ve made mistakes in my own paperbacks (such as not realizing that using MS Word’s sections feature, I can ensure that my blank pages are actually blank) so I can see how it happens. Why do you think it’s so difficult for self-publishers to get their print interiors right, especially considering that there are also—hopefully—avid readers? 

J: Yes, it’s curious, isn’t it? I think I know why this happens, too. Almost all of us have grown up with books, and we were introduced to them even before we could read, when Mum or Dad would read us to sleep.

Consequently, we pretty much take books for granted. They seem like such dead simple parts of ordinary life, we can’t imagine that there’s anything complicated about them at all.

It’s only when you try to create a real book yourself that it slowly dawns on you that the apparently simple object actually has lots of parts, many details that need to be decided, and a whole raft of centuries-old conventions that need to be followed if you don’t want to create uneasiness in your readers.

M: Anyone who has ever tried to format their manuscript for upload to Smashwords or KDP knows that MS Word is indeed the devil. But why is it so difficult to make a good looking paperback interior with it? What are the biggest hurdles? 

J: That’s pretty funny, Catherine. Of course, Microsoft Word is a brilliant program when it’s applied to its intended uses, mostly in an office environment. It makes it easy to create memos, reports, flyers, and many other common documents.

But it was never designed as a typesetting program, or intended for book layout. I can’t tell you how many self-published books I’ve seen with really horrible errors, like running heads on the title page, blank pages with page numbers, text that floats around the page, and formatting inconsistencies throughout.

Our templates were designed to get authors over those hurdles without them having to become Word ninjas. The template makes it easy.

M: The reaction to the Book Design Templates, from what I’ve seen, has been amazing. Has this surprised you? And what’s next for The Book Designer? 

J: Right away it was obvious that we had hit on something people really wanted. Instead of struggling with Word for hour after frustrating hour, and not even getting the result you want after all that work, authors saw right away that the template would free them from the drudgery and mistakes. I love that.

What’s on the horizon? We’ll keep expanding the template line, since we’re getting regular requests for sizes and styles we haven’t had a chance to develop yet.

And I’ll break some news here too. My next business will go in the opposite direction. I’m working right now on setting up a business to provide done-for-you professional-level book interiors based on the outstanding typography produced by Adobe InDesign and employing my own award-winning book designs.

I can’t say any more about that yet, but I’m pretty excited about it. This way, no matter how an author wants to get their book done—by themselves using the software they already own and know how to use, or with professional typesetting—I’ll be able to help them get into print.

For over 25 years I’ve been an advocate for self-publishing, and I love helping authors get their books done and into the hands of readers. That’s my mission, whether it’s on my blog, with these templates, or any of the other ways I try to help authors realize their publishing dreams.

* * * * *

Thanks so much Joel! And if you’re interested in these templates, I have great news: Joel is offering Catherine, Caffeinated readers a whopping 46% off until April 30 on http://www.bookdesigntemplates.comJust enter the coupon code template46 at checkout.

joelIf you don’t want to go the template route, there’s also the very helpful Book Construction Blueprint, a fantastic resource for anyone creating their own books, and it’s available for free on the template site. You can find that here.

Joel Friedlander (@JFBookman) is an award-winning book designer, a blogger, and the author of A Self-Publisher’s Companion: Expert Advice for Authors Who Want to Publish. He’s been launching the careers of self-publishers since 1994 and writes TheBookDesigner.com, a popular blog on book design, book marketing and the future of the book. Joel is also the founder of the online training course, The Self-Publishing Roadmap.

What Will You Do With Your Blog Posts? I Did THIS…

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So on Friday I shared with you the giddy news that I’ve made Mousetrapped into a 6×9 hardcover with the help of POD service Lulu, to mark its third—THIRD?!—anniversary.

But there was something else in the box from Lulu too…

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What (various shades of) pink prettiness is this? Before anyone has a heart attack, there is a coaster underneath that mug. Don’t you know me BUT AT ALL?

I started this blog on 1st February 2010, after spending three months messing around half-heartedly on a horrific looking Blogger.com effort I called The Scribbler. It recorded my thoughts as I came to the conclusion that I should self-publish and, later, served as a place to vent about the stress of the actual process. Eventually it was where I shared my exciting successes and, occasionally, disappointing failures. Continue reading

Introducing… MOUSETRAPPED as a POD Hardcover! And You Can WIN Stuff! More Exclamation Marks!

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It’s March 29th 2013, which means that I self-published Mousetrapped exactly three years ago today.

Three years. Three of them! Can you believe it? I know I certainly can’t.

To mark the occasion, I decided to quit slacking and do something I’ve been thinking about doing for ages: I made a POD hardcover edition of Mousetrapped with Lulu. 

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It’s bringing sexy(hard)back. 

Before we go any further, it should be noted that this making-a-POD-hardcover thing should be filed under Things We Do Just For Fun. It’s not a very good business decision. The hardcover edition is expensive to purchase ($33), and I’d say I could count on my hands the number of readers who’d consider buying it. But that’s okay, because I’ve done this primarily for me.

I wanted to see it in hardcover. And I knew as soon as I opened the Lulu box and saw it that it was totally worth doing.

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But this isn’t just the paperback edition with a hardcover. Oh, no. The paperback is 5.5 x 8.5, for starters, so I had to redo the interior to make it fit its new 6 x 9 size. I also had to get Andrew Brown, my cover designer, to make the original cover fit into the dimensions of a 6×9 dust-jacket, with the new addition of inside and back flaps. (A difficult job considering Lulu does NOT provide the same in-depth info CreateSpace does when it comes to making your own cover.) Hardcovers generally have the blurb inside, on the flaps, so the back cover had to be changed too. As you can see above, I stripped everything off it except for the background image. Continue reading

Proofing Your CreateSpace Paperback

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Back in the old days—the old days being 2010—the only way to check that your CreateSpace paperback was a-okay was to order a proof copy.

This wasn’t a bad thing. It was exciting. So exciting that the postman began to wonder why you were waiting at the door for him every morning, your eyes peeled for the cardboard package that was the very first copy of your (very first?) book. Finally when it did arrive, there came the hours of gazing at it adoringly (taking pictures of it on its own, taking pictures of it amidst the other books on your shelves, carefully polishing away the fingerprints visible on the glossy cover card with that neat little cloth that came with your iPhone…) and then going through the pages one by one, marveling at it all (“Is technology great, eh?”) while simultaneously checking for wayward paragraph indents.

But then, a stomach drop: an if that was supposed to be an it. And then a missing word. And then an extra space that seemed to create a hole of white space in the middle of the page.

So you ordered another proof copy, and that wasn’t quite as exciting.

The third one was just an expense you regretted having to add to your “Expenditures” list.

The fourth you grabbed off the postman with disdain.

The fifth you couldn’t bear to look at, which kind of defeated the purpose.

And so on and so on.

(If anyone is thinking, five proof copies? How hard are typos to find? I can only deduce that you have yet to experience the joys of trying to make tens of thousands of words you are so familiar with you can finish the sentences with your eyes closed absolutely perfect.)

But these days, proofing your book is a little bit easier. CreateSpace, who I use for all my printed books, now has three proofing options:

Option 1: The Digital Proofer

After you have submitted your files for review and CreateSpace has okayed them, they’ll offer you a link to their Digital Proofer: a fancy display that will enable you to virtually flip through your book—as close an approximation to flipping through a physical copy as possible.

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What I like about it: you can see the whole book, including the cover, and those dotted lines help you visualize what the finished pages will look like. It’s always helpful to see your text in as many different ways as possible.

What I don’t like about it: in my experience it crashes Safari all the damn time. Also, it’s not a printed proof. You can see what will appear on what page, yes, but what about how the pages will feel? What about the thickness of the paper? The colors on the cover? The glue of the spine?

What it’s useful for: I think if you order a printed proof and find typos, next time round you can rely on the Digital Proofer instead of yet another physical copy which will cost $$$ and take a week to arrive.

Option 2: Download a PDF

If your browser doesn’t take too kindly to the fancy digital proofer above, you can download a PDF instead. I find this a tad pointless because you uploaded a PDF, so what’s different about this?

What I like about it: As I said above, it’s always helpful to look at your book in as many different ways as possible. And unlike the PDF you uploaded, this will show you your book on a two-page spread, with page 4 opposite page 5, page 6 opposite page 7, and so on.

What I don’t like about it: This isn’t strictly how the pages will appear, because you’ll lose some of the margins to binding in the physical book. In the image above, for example, the “Praise for” text looks like it shifted too far to the right, but it’s not—when that page is one of hundreds glued to the spine of the book, that text will appear dead centre. It doesn’t show you the cover but then that would be pointless as it’ll look exactly like the cover PDF you uploaded. Also, it’s not a printed proof.

When to use it: Only to give your book another typo-hunt run through, I’d say.

Option 3: Order a Proof Copy

I can’t understand how anybody could skip this step. Not only is it exciting to finally hold your book in your hands, but how could you honestly put something out there that you hope people will buy without ever having seen it yourself? It just doesn’t make sense to me. I’d be awake at night in a cold sweat of terror wondering when the refund demands were going to start coming in…

What I like about it: Everything. What’s not to like? Besides the romance/excitement factor, this is the ONLY way to check that your book has come out the way you intended. No other option will even give you a clue as to what the pages or cover is like, and we all know proofing from paper is far more effective than proofing from screen.

What I don’t like about it: After a couple of rounds, the waiting and the expense can start to grate. That’s why I’d recommend that you order one proof copy and check your corrections using one of the methods above after that.

When to use it: Always.

Tip: you can order up to 5 proof copies of any book. In the past I’ve given reviewers these proof copies, as I want them to (i) receive the book before it’s on sale and (ii) know it’s a proof, and all CS proof copies have “Proof” printed on the back page. So I order my full five. If I need more, I re-submit the interior file—even though it’s the same one—and go through the “submit files” bit again, and then even though it’s the same book, I can order up to another five proof copies. Simples!

Join me on Thursday for proofing your Kindle book. 

Self-Printed: The Second Edition, is available now in paperback and e-book.

CreateSpace in Europe

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Things have been hectic around Catherine HQ over the last few days, and so when people started saying to me “Great news about CreateSpace and Europe, right?” I didn’t really have time to go and check if it was good news. I presumed it must be, because up until now, paying for CreateSpace’s expanded distribution channel upgrade did not guarantee that your book would appear on Amazon.co.uk which, for self-publishers on my side of the Atlantic, was very important indeed.

So if CreateSpace was now saying that your paperback would appear on Amazon.co.uk (and Amazon.de, and Amazon.fr, and Amazon.etc) in the same way it would on Amazon.com—automatically, and only a week or so after you published—that would be A Very Good Thing.

Which it is.

But now that I’ve had a chance to go investigate, I’ve realized that it’s even better that that.

No More EDC Lottery

Up until now, using CreateSpace only guaranteed that your POD paperback would appear for sale on Amazon.com. It might show up on Amazon.co.uk (and other international Amazons) but if it did, it could take anywhere from a couple of weeks (as it did with Mousetrapped in March 2010) to a few months (as with Self-Printed a year later), or it might never appear at all— or appear and disappear at will (as with Backpacked). If you were lucky, you got the next best thing: a third party seller flogging your book on Amazon instead. But that would mean that your book was unlikely to qualify for Super Saver Delivery, or ever be discounted. In short, it was a bad deal and the alternative, i.e. directing people to buy your book from Amazon.com, would mean higher shipping costs and a longer wait for your customers.

Now CreateSpace is saying that international Amazons are going to be just like Amazon.com: publish, and you’ll be on there. For free, as part of their publishing service. And on the same time schedule, which is 5-7 days. You don’t even have to upgrade to the EDC. (Now, that’ll just be for getting on the likes of Barnes and Noble, I presume.)

So, yay for guaranteed availability!

More Money

This is what I didn’t realize until I went onto CreateSpace to find out for myself what had changed: this means more money.

Flashback to a year ago. I’m selling Mousetrapped, a 232-page paperback in a 5.5 x 8.5 trim size, and I’ve paid a one-time fee of $39 to upgrade to CreateSpace’s “ProPlan” which gives me cheaper unit costs and enrolls me in their Expanded Distribution Channel, or EDC. If I sell a copy on Amazon.com, I pocket around $4.52. If I sell a copy through the EDC, I make around $1.53. And because every online retail site except Amazon.com falls under this EDC umbrella, I only make $1.53 from paperback sales on Amazon.co.uk.

Now that the international Amazons are on a par with Amazon.com and have been taken out of the EDC, there’s a lot more money to be made from paperback sales there—and I don’t have to pay for any ProPlan to avail of it.

More Information

There’s yet another bonus to this whole CreateSpace Europe thing: more information. Up until now, you could only find out how many books you’d sold through Amazon.com and how many books you’d sold through the EDC. You had no idea if those EDC sales were from B&N, other Amazons or a guy with a trunk full of books. (Well, you could probably guess it wasn’t the last one…) But now you’ll know—or at least know more, because your sales will be divided into Amazon.com, Amazon Europe and EDC. Furthermore, your payments will be divided into dollars (Amazon.com + the EDC), British Pounds (Amazon.co.uk) and Euro (Amazon.de, Amazon.it, Amazon.fr and Amazon.es), so it should be fairly easy to figure out where your paperback sales are coming from.

The Downsides

This leads me on to the one real downside of this I can see: separate cheques. Right now if you publish on KDP Select, you receive three different cheques: one in dollars, one in pounds and one in euro. That’s all well and good, but in order to get them, you have to reach the minimum threshold for them, which I believe is a hundred apiece. Up until now, you only ever received one cheque from CreateSpace and it was in dollars. Now, you’ll have to wait to meet that $100/£100/€100 threshold before you receive the cheques, so chances are you’ll be waiting longer to get paid.

The other sorta downside is shipping charges. According to the CS website, if I order stock of my own book, they’re still being shipped from the US and still costing me a small fortune to get to my house ($112 at economy/6 weeks speed for 100 books). That’s approximately a third of what the books themselves would be costing me. But fingers crossed, that’ll get sorted out eventually…

Come Join the Party

If you have titles already for sale through CreateSpace, they won’t be entered into the Amazon Europe channel automatically. You need to do a few things:

  1. Log on to CreateSpace and update your royalty profile information
  2. Go into each title and manually open the Amazon Europe channel
  3. Select your prices: automatic conversions (as with Kindle books) or set your own GBP and EUR prices.

I did this just after midnight yesterday, and this morning I already have a few euro and a few pounds in my CreateSpace kitty. Also yesterday, Backpacked‘s paperback was showing “out of stock” on Amazon.co.uk, but now it’s in stock and reflecting my new end-in-99p price. So the switch-over must take effect as soon as you do it on your account.

Now that’s customer service for you.

I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: I LOVE CreateSpace.

(And isn’t it nice to be talking about actual books for once?!)

Thanks to Sally Clements for alerting me about this!

Why You Need Some “Self” in Your Self-Publishing

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As you know, my least favorite self-publishing related word is gatekeepers. But did you know that my least favorite self-publishing related combination of two words is Big Six? Or that my least favorite self-publishing related combination of three words is one-stop shop (as in “Look at our shiny website! We are a one-stop shop for all your self-publishing needs!’)?

Well, you do now, and one-stop shops are what I’m going to talk (read: rant) about today.

I think I’m just going to put random coffee pics in all my posts from now on. SO much easier than looking for book pics… 

The typical one-stop self-publishing shop goes something like this. You, via the magic of a shiny website, find a self-publishing service called—let’s just say—ProperlyPublished.com. (Is that a real domain? I’d better check!). They promise to publish your book for you, as in produce a crop of glossy print copies, sell said glossy copies on their website and make your book available to bookstores. They will take care of the whole shebang: editing, typesetting, design, printing and ISBNs. All you have to do is submit your manuscript, then sit back and relax. Oh, and pay them the equivalent of a few mortgage payments. But then you can sit back and relax, and perhaps look forward to the “10 FREE copies!” of your book they’ve generously included in their offer.

Sounds great, right? Of course it does. Especially if you’re not a techie, or don’t have the time/coffee reserves to do this kind of thing yourself.

And maybe it would be great for you, but I doubt it.

I don’t think you need someone else doing everything for you, and I especially don’t think you need someone else project-managing the publication of your book. I’m positive you don’t need to be paying someone else to self-publish you. (And how, pray tell, is it self-publishing if there’s no “self” involved?) Self-publishers have never before had so many tools, advice and information—free tools, advice and information—at their fingertips, and yet new one-stop shops are popping up all the time.

I don’t think you should be tempted by them. I would go so far as to say you should avoid them, because using a service like this will, generally, have you paying through the nose for sub-standard work. Instead, you should project-manage the publication of your own book, finding and enlisting professional partners (editors, cover designers) as needed.

Let’s start with the paying through the nose bit. I don’t want to name any names, but I picked one popular one-stop shop self-publishing company (which I think is a fair example of how things look across the board) and compared it to using CreateSpace (in the way I do) to produce a standard length paperback.

The One-Stop Shop
  • Publishing package: $1,900

This includes interior design (i.e. typesetting), cover design based on template, up to 4 electronic proofs and 1 bound proof copy, 100 copies of the finished book. Your book will be listed for sale on the service’s website and “made available” to bookstores and to you, for ordering stock. The ISBN will be supplied (owned by the service) and copies of the book will be filed with relevant national libraries*. Your book will probably be available on Amazon.com, but there’s no guarantee. No mention of other retailers.

  • Cover designed from scratch: Add $450
  • Ordering personal stock: $6 per book

Total cost to publish paperback with original cover and get 200 copies**for yourself: $2,950

Using a POD Service (e.g. CreateSpace)
  • Publishing package: N/A
  • Pre-publication costs: We have to find an editor ourselves, so let’s say this will cost us $1,500
  • Cover designed from scratch: Let’s give a generous budget to the cover design we’ve sourced ourselves, so $400
  • IBSN: Free
  • Proof Copy: The cost of one book, so $3.50
  • Expanded Distribution: $25 (You’re on Amazon.com—that’s a given—but this will get you on other sites too)

Total cost to publish paperback with original cover and get 200 copies for yourself: $2,628

So at the moment there’s only about $300 in it, which is a pocket of loose change in the scheme of self-publishing things. But let’s use my own self-publishing costs, for Mousetrapped, instead of a theoretical budget. (Mousetrapped was a 232-page paperback measuring 5.5 x 8.5 that I published with CreateSpace and got an original cover for, which was copyedited but not structurally edited or proofread by a professional.)

  • Copyediting: $1,000
  • Cover design: $200
  • ISBN: Free
  • Proof copy: $3.63
  • 200 copies: $726

Now our total is down to $1,929 and some change—and that’s my point. If you use a one-stop shop, there is no negotiating. You pay the total advertised, and that’s that. But if you do it yourself, if you become the project manager of your self-published book, you can shop around. You can invite bids. You could even barter. Maybe your cover designer will give you some money off if you agree to run an ad for him or her on your website or something. But there’s no scope for anything like that with the one-stop shop.

And what if you don’t want 200 copies? What if you don’t even need or want the 100 you’re supposedly getting “free”? (Which I just think, by the way, is the biggest joke ever. It’s like Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at Magic Kingdom. You pay nearly $50 for a ticket that gets you into the park for a few hours, and they tell you you’re getting “free” hot chocolate and cookies. Um…?) Say you just want 25 copies. Well, use CreateSpace and you’ll end up paying just $1,293.

A bigger issue, for me personally, is what you’re paying for. You really don’t know. I’ve seen two books from the same one-stop shop in the last year or so, one paperback and one e-book. In the paperback there were no misspellings or typos that I could see, but it hadn’t been edited at all, at least not in any kind of professional way, and there were blank lines here and there for no reason and at least five or six sentences that stopped mid-page. The cover was about as good as a CreateSpace Cover Creator cover, and it looked so self-published it may as well have come with an alarm shouting just that. The e-book had misspellings and other typos, and again, was filled with formatting errors. The impression I was left with was that there was just no attention to detail, and I don’t see how there could be on a conveyer belt system where books are coming in and out all the time, and the customer base is mainly made up of people who are unsure about how a book should look.

These companies tend to work around templates. They’d have to, or their business wouldn’t work. If you are offering a service for x price, you aren’t making any money by sitting down with each and every author who comes your way, talking to them at length about what they want and then going away and spending hours and hours creating and then fine-tuning just that very thing. You wouldn’t be able to charge flat rates if you did, because every book is different. So in order to charge flat rates, you pre-design a bunch of book types, and then get your clients to fit into them somehow. Same goes for the cover. (I’m guessing this has something to do with why books produced by these companies always look self-published to me.) Now I don’t blame them or even admonish them for that—if I was in the same business, that’s exactly what I’d do. Otherwise you’d be a kind of bespoke book-producing boutique, and you’d have to charge astronomical prices. But I do admonish them for the hyperbole they fill their sales pitches with, crap about control and choice and “working together to realize your vision” and all that nonsense. They always talk about what your book “deserves”. It’s very easy for a writer who has just come round to the idea of self-publishing to get taken in.

CreateSpace offer a similar package, and although I’m recommend you go with them for your self-publishing adventures, I would never recommend that you avail of any of their services, for the same reason. I love, love, LOVE them—I love the books they make, how little they charge for them, their customer service, etc.—but I would never go to them for their editing, typesetting or design services. You just don’t know what you’re paying for. There’s no guarantee of quality. And from what I’ve seen, you’ll get a better result if you go looking for individuals to do the work yourself.

Above are two self-published covers. The one on the right (the horse) is a cover CreateSpace put on their website as an example of an “original illustration” cover. It costs from $949. The one on the left was done by Design for Writers (see this post) and although I don’t know how much it cost, I’m betting it wasn’t a third of what Mr. Horse did.

And what about when the book goes on sale? How much do you make then? Well, with the same one-stop shop used in the example above, you’d get around 70% on the profit (i.e. NOT on the list price) after a $2 “handling charge” is deducted. So let’s say your book was selling in a store for $14.95, and the bookstore was taking a 35% cut. I figure you’d be collecting a little over $5 from each sale. I don’t know how much you’d get from an Amazon sale. With CreateSpace, you get about $5 from an Amazon sale (using the example of Mousetrapped) and less from “expanded distribution” sales from other online retailers. So that’s little difference there between the two—but there is a big difference in the cost of the book to you. To buy a copy of my own book costs me $6 from the one-stop shop, but only $3.60-ish from CreateSpace. Many self-publishers go to companies like this because they want stock, but if that stock is twice as expensive as it would be from CreateSpace, why bother? I wouldn’t.

They say “We make self-publishing simple!” Self-publishing, if we’re talking about an e-book and a POD paperback which is what most self-publishers are talking about these days, is already simple. If you can’t do something yourself—editing, cover design, even formatting—you’ll get a far better deal by sourcing the people you need and paying them individually, than you’ll be handing over wads of cash to one company who claim to do it all. You’ll have much more control if you do it yourself. You’ll get, in my opinion, a better product. And you won’t end up with boxes of dusty books under the stairs, which is what this whole digital self-publishing thing is about avoiding in the first place.

In my opinion, your self-publishing needs to have some self in itWhat do you think?

*Filing copies of your self-published books will national libraries is an exercise in ridiculousness.If your national library actually began receiving copies of every self-published book not only for sale in your country but available to buy from there too, they’d change their tune on their policies pretty quick, I’d imagine. Except they wouldn’t be able to reach their desks because they’d be piles and piles of POD-d books in their way. I’d never done it and you don’t need to either. **Paying only for 100, because 100 of them are free. Both examples exclude shipping costs. 

Mick Rooney at The Independent Publishing Magazine both reviews and ranks self-publishing companies, if you’re interested in learning more.