Self-Publishing: Print, E-book or Both? (Part 1)

The Brave, New World of Publishing is Now

digital-printer-3While we might yearn for the ease in production and promotion afforded by the traditional agent/publisher arrangement such as August 29th’s featured author, Karan Bajaj, enjoys, many self-publishing VF authors will spend their own time, brains, and cash, at least in the beginning, to get their works into the hands of paying readers. Prior to the electronic publishing era, a writer either found an agency/publisher combination to finance his production or paid a vanity press upfront to publish. Without either, many deserving manuscripts lived in desk drawers rather than on book shelves.

For reasons amply chronicled elsewhere, electronic publishing so revolutionized the information industry that many givens of only a decade ago for preparing, producing and promoting a book no longer hold. And for similar reasons, today’s rules too will be outmoded in a few years. Modern technology thrives by improving upon itself, and nowhere is the blizzard of innovation more overwhelming than in the publishing industry. The self-publishing author must be on constant alert for change.

The Game Changers

Electronic Publishing

The impact of electronic publishing on the book production process is now self-evident. Resistance, as the Borg put it, is futile. You might as well learn how it’s done and go with the flow.

Print-On-Demand

Digital Printer

Digital Printer

Once e-publishing made e-books possible, the next major innovation to jolt the traditional publishing industry was POD (Print-On-Demand) book production. Print-on-demand is a printing technology and business process that prepares a master file for reproduction but makes no copies of the work until an order arrives. Thus, books can be printed singly or in small quantities. While build-to-order or just-in-time has long been an established business model in many industries, “print on demand” only became feasible after digital printing was developed.

With POD, most calculations favoring large-quantity book runs can be tossed. The higher per unit cost on shorter runs, which remains a factor, is offset by minimal storage expenses, fewer unsold books, and virtually perpetual availability (never goes out of print). When speaking of printed books in this post, I mean POD.

The Game WILL Change without Notice

When advising about buying and using electronic services at a particular time, it is risky to cite specifics, including brands and vendors. Modules (pieces of the process) and interfaces (how the pieces fit together) can and will change without notice. Nevertheless, a book must be published in its own right time and that means using the best technology available at that moment.

For example, my recent VF novel, Channel of the Grail, (an instance of shameless self-promo!) was ready for prime time in mid-2016. With no big publisher behind me and neither the wealth or inclination to hire a vanity press, I had to explore, evaluate and execute COTG’s debut with the best my budget allowed.

To my advantage, this was my second go-around. I self-published The Anathemas, in 2010, but then, given my inexperience and workload otherwise, I relied heavily on a self-publishing service provider (more on them further on).

Six years later, there were more options, better information, faster technology, and longer vendor track records. I had the benefit of having done it once, and, unique to me, some years of technical employment with a major publisher. So, this time I felt I could perform some tasks that another might want to hand off while another might choose to do something, like cover art, that I contracted out.

After consulting with other authors who also wanted to refine their self-publishing process, we concluded that a summary of my recent experience would be helpful to VFA members and an entry point for worthwhile discussion. Happily, online research proved that my conclusions were close to the consensus “best method” cited on several websites.  Links in this series will point to articles that verify or amplify my observations.

Yup, It’s Complicated

No single blog piece or series can cover the full print/e-book publishing process adequately. However, every writer, even those blessed with a great agent and publisher, should be aware of the major steps to get a book from writer to reader (with some cash passing back from reader to writer). To provide a checklist of topics, I’ll snitch the chapter titles from 8 Topics to Master Before Publishing Your Book (didn’t read it, don’t necessarily endorse, but convenient for my purposes here, and the pamphlet is short and free):

  1. ISBNs: Requirements and Usage.
  2. Book Cover Requirements.
  3. A POD Primer: CreateSpace or IngramSpark?
  4. eBooks: Format Types, Programming, Correcting.
  5. Pricing Your Print Book and eBook.
  6. Marketing: Distributing and Announcing Your New Book.
  7. Production Timeline: Impacts and Considerations.
  8. Budgeting: Production Cost Components

Reduce your Options

With that for a list of what you need to know in general, don’t try to learn everything about each line item. Given all the variables possible,  aim to reduce your options first.

Self-publish or pay a self-publishing service?

Self-publishing and using the services of a self-publishing company can be vastly different in cost, time, and skill required. The goal is to deliver the book to the reader in a pleasing format at a reasonable price that adequately compensates the writer.

Self-Publishing as alternativeUnless you own a press and the means to distribute, no book can be completely self-published without some of the services of a self-publishing company. (In this article we’ll talk about IngramSparks and CreateSpace, both self-publishing service companies that provide printing and distribution.) On the other hand, no self-publishing service company, no matter their claims or how much you pay them, can make a success of a book without author cooperation. Hold this balance in mind, and you will reduce disappointments and/or keep more money in your pocket.

In evaluating self-publishing service companies, use comparative websites (for example, http://www.topconsumerreviews.com/self-publishing/detailed-reviews.php). Watch for those comparisons sponsored by a particular vendor; they may be slanted in its favor. Look for companies that make their money selling your books rather than selling you additional features that don’t sell books or that can be DIY.

The model I will present is a hybrid: true self-publishing where realistic (buy your own ISBNs, be your own imprint, hire your own graphics people, etc.) but using one or more of the accepted self-publishing service companies for printing and distribution with some marketing thrown in. I published my first novel with Outskirts Press in Denver, a self-publishing service company known for heavy upsell. I consider the money spent on them an educational expense but would not use them or a like service again.

Print only, e-book only, or both?

For this article, we can dispose of the first two possibilities (print only, e-book only) quickly. Not to ignore these options in the planning stages, but it should be easy to determine if yours is a one-shoe fit or not. Unless an author has a specific reason why not e-publish (lots of internal color plates, don’t want it on the web, for example), always plan to e-publish.

Reasons to go e-book only, time and cost among them, are becoming more persuasive as this method of reading becomes more pervasive. E-book only may become the default in the future. Formatting and uploading tools are now plentiful and inexpensive, and a book can be fully prepared for little or no cost in a couple hours. Should the combination of print and e-book prove too complex or expensive, you can fall back to e-book only as an option.

On the web there are many blogs and articles featuring the pros and cons of these various choices (an example: Print Vs. Ebooks – Does It Pay To Do Print? by Molly Greene). However, the best answer for fiction writers (and I am aware of my audience, the Visionary Fiction Alliance) is definitely both print and e-book. So, in the next installment , we will consider that combination, specifically considering the self-publishing services of IngramSpark and CreateSpace.

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About Victor Smith

Victor E. Smith, a lifelong generalist with a diverse resume, sees himself as a scribe of the realm “in-between.” Writing largely visionary and historical fiction, he seeks to observe, absorb, and express those close encounters between the spiritual and material universes that form the unique adventure called human life. Vic is the author of The Anathemas: A Novel of Reincarnation and Restitution (2010) and Channel of the Grail (May 2016). He is a core team member of the Visionary Fiction Alliance. For further information, visit his website, victoresmith.com.
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9 Responses to Self-Publishing: Print, E-book or Both? (Part 1)

  1. Thanks for the great information, Victor. Some writers are using the terms independent publishing instead of self-publishing, and legacy publishing instead of traditional. The first change is supposed to get away from the old stigma and the second term is supposed to suggest old ways that are perhaps too stiff. I’ve published traditionally with Hampton Roads, which I liked, then with two small presses, which left a bit to be desired, and then indie. It’s certainly been a journey and will continue to change, as you so wisely said.

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  2. robingregory says:

    Thank you for breaking down the latest, Victor. I think a lot of folks confuse the term “indie” with “self” publishing. Indie publishing, I’m told by a local bookseller, means a small trade or university press administers the project. Self-publishing means the author administers. Then, there are some who do both and call it “hybrid.” My traditional publisher–who mentors self-publishers–eschews the term “hybrid” because it is pretty much “vanity” publishing. She says her mentored self-publishers would be considered “indie.” Whew! It’s gettin’ complicated.

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    • Thanks for the additional info, Robin. While it further highlights the confusion in terminology, it helps to explain, at least for me, why navigating through this subject can get so difficult. It’s not just the distinction between traditional and self-publishing but the spectrum that has developed between the two. And the current state of the industry that has forced writers to get involved in publishing if they want to get their work out. Why we have organizations like the VFA, I guess, and those of us who write these posts and comments to help each other figure it out.

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  3. Thanks, Vic, I’m looking forward to next week’s installment, where you “will consider that combination, specifically considering the self-publishing services of IngramSpark and CreateSpace.” I’ve got Kindle and CreateSpace covered. Next, come IngramSpark and Smashwords.

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  4. Vic, thank you for the explanations. Although I’ve been through the experience of having small press publishers, POD, and Indie publishing for my five novels, it is good to review how I did in the process, using your descriptions. There are indeed ongoing quantum changes in all publishing arenas. I look forward to the next part of your series – the self-publishing services of IngramSpark and CreateSpace. Although things are getting easier, Indie publishing is still a complicated world.

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  5. Thanks for this introductory article to the series, Vic. Like Jodine I’ve experienced both self-publishing and small-press publishing (as well as commercial publishing) and reading your article has reminded me of all the research one has to do before going down either of the former two routes.

    Theresa and Robin raised an interesting and long-standing issue with indie (which I personally use as the broad term encompassing both self and indie – adding to the confusion, I know). For commercial (the other word for traditional) publishers ‘vanity’ is a slur that has been thrown at indies for a good couple of decades to try and stem the competition. Evidently, it hasn’t worked. 🙂 And why would it? Historically speaking, there have always been self-publishing authors, and some of their titles are now literary classics.

    But yes, a bit like the term VF there is some confusion with usage and meaning of terms. The (modern) indie publishing industry is still developing its language.

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