Self-publishing with Amazon

I am frequently asked about how I publish my books…specifically, who is my publisher. I’ve used Amazon’s Createspace for everything. My experience with it has been great. Would I like to sell more books? Sure, but apart from my facebook page and some half-hearted blogging, I rarely do much to self-promote. I think this is one component of self-publishing that many people aren’t prepared for. I think some people believe if you just throw something online it will sell. I can tell you from my experience, this is not true at all.

My book, “What I Want You To Know” was written specifically for new or expecting parents of a child with Down syndrome. I set up a kickstarter.com project to raise some money. When the book was complete, I used the funds to purchase a sizable number of copies, and pay the postage to send them out to loads of Down syndrome advocacy groups, clinics, and organizations about North America. I went on television a few times. I was reviewed by small magazines and a couple newspapers. I did public readings and book store signings. I created tiny ripples in the small pond of people who might actually be interested in my book.

This was really the only time I promoted a book I’d made. The rest just sit on an Amazon server somewhere, waiting for their number to be called.

Createspace publishing is all done POD, or “print on demand”. When someone orders a book of mine, the magic elves in South Carolina print and bind a copy, and ship off the order within about 24 hours. As someone who’s worked in publishing for 15 years, this is a beautiful technological feat. Here’s why it’s awesome: I don’t have to come up with $10k in advance and print a thousand copies I then haul around in my trunk for 3 years. I don’t have to invest a dime, and I don’t have to deal with inventory and shipping out orders. If I want copies for myself, I can buy them for a significantly reduced price per copy.

They let me pick the price. They direct deposit (30-day lag) all royalties each month. They give you virtual store you can create discount codes you can pass along to “fans”, allowing them to buy copies for cost or near-cost.

My books are also available throughout Europe.

What people gripe about mostly are the hardships of being an island. There’s no publisher to set-up a book tour for you. You have to navigate and figure this out yourself, and then be savvy enough to work it. Your book isn’t going to magically appear on New York’s bestseller lists, like I guess some people expect. Your book isn’t going to at Barnes & Noble because you call it your “new release”. Barnes & Noble and other (primarily) brick & mortar stores stick to what those major book publishers tell them too. I’ve found the only way to get into a brick & mortar store is to go there and meet the owner or manager. Give them physical copies of your book. Kind of a huge disadvantage for us unsigned authors. It really limits your distribution.  It’s like a band making their own CDs and selling them shows, as opposed to the major label artists’ CDs showing up at every retail store in the country. Then again, you obviously weren’t “discovered” and assigned an agent yet, which is why you’re considering this route to getting published in the first place.

If you’re someone who’s written their life’s novel, and you’re looking to making it available to the masses, you’ll also have to consider setting up the files and designing a cover. This can’t be underestimated, and I say if you’re going to even remotely have a shot at a book that sells, you need to spend some money. Find a good designer. Ask around. Don’t settle. Be fair on your price. Designers are generally a “get what you pay for” occupation. Give $50 to your best friend’s 16-year old daughter and I can almost guarantee it will suck. Look at other book covers in your genre. Let them inspire you. You really can often judge a book by it’s cover.

Also, Comic Sans will likely make your children’s book fail and 12-point Times New Roman will probably destroy the quality of your brilliant murder/mystery. Why? because they look unprofessional and low-brow to anyone with an eye for these things.

You’ll want friends to proofread it once you get a hard copy proof. Proofread the thing, set it down for a day or two, then proof again. I suggest asking friends (who are readers) to help you with this. Often times when we’re really involved in a project, a huge glaring error can get through because we have just looked at the project so many times, we quit “seeing” it after awhile.

Back to createspace.com. It’s really straight-forward to use. It walks you through every element. It will give you a free UPC code, which will also save you money. The caveat to this is that you can’t say “Published by Jim Smith Publishing, Akron, Michigan”. You have the option to pay to purchase the “imprint”, which is publishing talk for the little microtype copyright/publisher info that appears in the front pages of all books. That said, it might not matter much. Regardless if you purchase the imprint or not, you are the author/publisher, and retain all rights to the book. So say your amazing book is discovered by a huge publishing house who wants to republish/rework the rights, you can do that. You are under no obligation to keep your book available to Amazon. You still own it.

Since my books are all heavily illustrated, making them available on kindle doesn’t make sense, but it’s a free option here too. Again, don’t imagine you’ll be SEO, unless your topic is very specific and limited. Use tags. Write your author bio. Don’t skimp on the book synopsis.

There are several other POD book publishers these days. Initially I investigated a few, and found the info available on the message boards and through Amazon/createspace the most clear-cut and helpful. I’m sure you can discover their names with a quick google search of POD publishers, but since I’ve never used any others, I’d hate to steer you towards them. I found createspace first and have been very happy with the whole process. The final product is of high quality; I personally have never heard of issues with the quality of the book binding, paper, or printing. Since it’s 100% guaranteed, should any misprints occur, they will redo or refund.

It’s low risk, and low/no cost. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to get their work published but has never been able to afford it.

If anyone has had a different sort of experience, I’d like to hear your story as well.

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