A few months ago a feature film producer attending the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books happened by the stall of EC Printing, a firm that prints books for self-publishing authors. There the producer spotted a full-color book of illustrations that Go for Launch Productions of Glendale, AZ had self- published to promote its feature film and animation design work. The producer was impressed, contacted the company and that led to a lucrative deal for Go for Launch with Universal Studios. Interestingly, the firm had printed an extremely limited run of books, a mere 100 volumes, yet that was sufficient to land it a very important deal.
A book can drive customers to a company or enhance a business person’s credentials. If that’s your primary goal in writing a book, self-publishing may work for you. It is less time-consuming than finding a publisher. Last time I wrote about the arduous process of finding a publisher. Today, let’s look at self-publishing.
John Tantillo, Ph.D. is the CEO of The Marketing Department of America, and bills himself as “The Marketing Doctor.” He has succeeded in making himself into a unique brand. He self-published the book People Buy Brands, Not Companies because “commercial publishers [...] are operating with an increasingly creaky business model. Fact is, they don’t really know what sells and, sadly, most of the time they don’t know how to sell very well. With commercial publishing you basically give up control in exchange for them paying you a small amount of money, offering you their ever diminishing prestige. As a marketer, I found that unacceptable because I don’t believe most commercial publishers would be dynamic and aggressive enough to support my book.”
The biggest downside of self-publishing is that you pay all the costs: writing (if you engage a collaborator), design (if you can’t do your own design), printing and promotion. But even with a publisher these days, you are still stuck with the promotional costs, the collaborator costs and, if your book requires illustrations, you have to license them out of the publisher’s advance.
I have the unique experience of having gone both the publishing and self-publishing route with one book. McGraw-Hill published How to Make the Most of Every Media Appearance in 2003 and then I took back the rights and revised and republished it myself in 2007 as How to Master the Media. I did this principally because as the book’s biggest customer--I was buying them to promote business and also as a take-away in my media training workshops--I was subsidizing McGraw-Hill. Each book I bought cost me $8.00 and did not count against my advance. The self-published How to Master the Media costs me well under $4.00 a copy. Is it worth it? Well, to quote Dr. Tantillo, the branding expert: “Business people spend a lot of money on knick knacks for potential clients, but there is nothing more memorable than being able to autograph your own book – especially if it’s a book that reinforces your credentials and underscores your grasp of the business. It sets you apart from the competition with relevance and without gimmickry.”
In deciding to take back my book and self-publish it, I enjoyed a number of advantages that other authors might not have. First, McGraw-Hill had already published the book so I had the benefit of the company’s editorial input. True, I revised it extensively, but the skeleton upon which I hung the new muscle had been vetted by a veteran editor. Second, because I had worked in newspapers and studied print layout in journalism school, I was able to design my book myself. A book is not a long essay; creating one requires some layout skills and/or very costly software like QuarkXpress ($500+) or Adobe Indesign ($1,900). Third, I found a reputable printer, EC Printing. Some print houses, usually billing themselves as print on-demand firms, charge for printing books and then pay the author a royalty based on book sales. In theory, this enables an author to recoup the printing costs. In actual fact, it rarely does. These companies print your book and place it in the listings (albeit not necessarily in the stores) of major chains and with online retailers. But they have a lot of control over your work because they set the sales price, they control the inventory (so you never really know how many books are sold) and they own the ISBN (International Standard Book Number). That means that for all intents and purposes, they own the book even if they don’t own the copyright, because you need that ISBN to get a bookseller to list your work. Whoever controls the ISBN controls the product. Additionally, POD outfits charge authors a lot more for their own books, usually 70 percent of the list price which they, not you, have set.
If you’re starting out from scratch, here is how to deal with those issues:
Editorial: Your word processing software may catch misspellings and egregious grammatical errors, but there are far more pitfalls awaiting an author than those. You can hire someone to edit your book for you. A Google search of “free lance book editors” yielded well over 100 entries. A free-lance editor will cost you between $15 and $40 an hour, depending on your needs and the editor’s level of experience. Simple proofreading usually costs about $25 an hour. Writing and re-writing charges start at about $45 an hour and can go as high as $100 an hour. Many of these editors will negotiate a flat rate for the entire job, so you have a fixed cost going in. These days, it’s a buyer’s market, since there are so many out-of-work writers and editors.
Design: Most printers offer design services. They already own Adobe Indesign or QuarkXpress and for a fee will design the book for you. Since I did the layout and interior design for How to Master the Media, EC Books supplied me with the cover design which, I feel, is far more compelling than the cover McGraw-Hill created.
ISBN: Get your own. A single ISBN and bar code (essential if you’re going to sell through Amazon.com or in bookstores) should cost you under $50.
Another tip: Be aware of copyright laws. If you write your book by cutting and pasting together Internet articles or if you pull photos off Google images and plant them in your book, you are inviting a lawsuit. Many images and documents on the free Internet are copyrighted, and holders of copyrights can be aggressive about protecting their intellectual property. Use your own words, othewise you are plagiarizing.
How much will your book cost you? Dr. Tantillo says, “As long as you are willing to roll up your sleeves and be there every step of the way (and this means doing most of the writing), you should be able to produce the book for between $5,000 to $10,000 (no more than $10,000!)” In my case, I encountered none of those costs, so I paid only for the books printed. The more books you order, the lower the cost per unit. For a 5.5 by 8.5-inch paperback of 150 pages with a gloss laminated full color cover, expect to pay about $3.60 per unit for 250, $3.10 per unit for 500 and $2.30 per unit for 1,000. Longer books, like mine (233 pages), cost slightly more. Your other costs depend on how much you do for yourself and how much help you have in preparing your manuscript.
Finally, be aware that sometimes, established publishers will discover a self-published book, be impressed with it, and buy the rights to reprint and distribute it. That’s what happened to networking expert William M. Saleebey, Ph.D, with his book Study Skills for Success. After he self-published, Simon & Schuster picked it up and republished it. His second and third books, Sell Yourself and Connecting: Beyond the Name Tag, were self-published. Dr. Saleebey says he’s glad he self-published. “I had 100% artistic and content control and reap all of the profits.”
Dr. Saleebey, a speaker and trainer with expertise in the psychological aspects of personal and business networking, mounted an ambitious promotional campaign to sell Connecting: Beyond the Name Tag. You would expect that chore to fall to a self-publishing author, but even if a major house buys your book, the sales promotion burden is still going to fall on your shoulders.