A Quick Self-Publishing Primer

Posted July 15, 2015, under Gosh, That's Handy!

In this month’s first Lunch Meat, we talked about ebooks and self-publishing, as a lead-in to talking about book covers. But we kind of skimmed over the details about what it takes to even get to that stage.

Considering the number of folks who feel they’ve got a book or three in them, but feel daunted by the unknown that would go into self-publishing, we thought it might be useful to put together a quick primer on the market as it stands, mid-2015.

First Burning Question: Is Success Possible?

Of course it is, and unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard of the preeminent example: E.L. James, whose stories famously started out as Twilight fan fiction (yes, really) and morphed into a series of dubious quality that yet tapped a rich vein in the market. The 50 Shades books garnered a professional publishing contract, went on to sell millions of copies, and the first of three major motion pictures has already been through theaters.

This is despite acknowledged problems with writing quality, as well as the very plot, the whole “born of fan-fiction” thing, vocal backlash from the BDSM community (thanks, apparently, to insufficient research on the author’s part), and so on — all normally considered major stumbling blocks to success. Yet the fact of James’ success is unassailable.

On a rather less prurient front, Hugh Howey has seen similar — though less sensationalized — success for his book series, variously marketed as “The Wool Trilogy” or “The Silo series.” Initially published as a series of short stories, Howey expanded on the post-apocalyptic premise and ended up with nine stories, bundled into three “omnibus” editions. The first one, Wool, was published July 30, 2011 — a date you may recognize as being only four years ago.

Simon & Schuster offered Howey a six-figure deal, but he went for a “mere” five-figure deal so he could maintain self-published ebook rights. That doesn’t count whatever he made selling the film rights to Fox.

Now, these two individuals are what statisticians call outliers. Most people in self-publishing are not enjoying quite that level of success. But it is possible. Maybe you don’t get a movie deal and dump trucks full of money backing into your driveway — but on the other hand, there is a documented niche and a five-figure monthly income for sasquatch erotica (not linking to that one). So, opportunities are out there. Here are some more examples.

Okay, But How?

So, having written a book, gotten it proofread and edited by someone who isn’t your mom, and a decent cover acquired — what’s the next step?

That’s really going to depend on your own needs and intentions. There are a number of options, and each has their own pros and cons.

Amazon

Taking on the biggest fish in the pond first: Amazon is the domestic (U.S.) leader in book sales, electronic and paper, for all publishers including individuals.

They provide a print-on-demand service through Createspace, which means you don’t have to spend thousands printing books that you have to store until you can unload them. Createspace also includes some paid services such as proofreading and editing. We would advise shopping around for better prices in your area — but the services are there.

On the ebook front, there is Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). They have a user-friendly uploading process, granular control on such things as markets (what countries you want to sell in), pricing, and sales. They don’t (as of this writing) charge for updates to pricing or even the book itself. Their “commission” (not, royalties, apparently) system is pretty decent.

They also have programs you can involve your book in, and we strongly recommend you do your homework on these to decide whether they are for you. When you enroll your book into the Kindle Select program, you are committing to exclusivity to Amazon, as well as automatically enrolling in their “Kindle Unlimited” subscription service. That means subscribers can read your book for free, and you get paid according to how much of your book they read (opposed to direct purchase royalties). Even non-subscribers can get your book for free during special offers, which raises your profile but doesn’t immediately put money in your pocket.

Kobo

If you want to publish in Commonwealth countries — particularly Canada — and some European countries, Kobo has the larger market share there (yes, bigger than Amazon). We don’t have as much information about them, but according to their website, they’re at least free to publish, and you retain ownership of your work.

iBooks

For iPad sales, you’re not limited to the Apple Store — apps exist for both Kindle and Barnes & Noble e-reading — but should you wish to sell on that platform, they are a growth market. There are hitches: first of all, you need a Mac, and an Apple ID, and then further software and/or memberships stack up as you go through the upload process. Then there have been rumors that it takes a few weeks to become available once uploaded.

But, according to this comparison, Apple treats its authors pretty well, and they don’t even require exclusivity to do it. For example, their commissions are 70%, no matter what you charge or where you sell. Amazon’s are quite a bit more complicated than that.

Barnes & Noble (Nook Press)

In the United States, Barnes & Noble is pretty much the most significant brick-and-mortar book outlet left. They do have a proprietary eReader in the Nook, and uploading books to their site is fairly simple. However, their interface for buying books isn’t all that great, and sales are on the decline.

However, indie authors account for more than half of the titles on their bestseller lists, so Nook Press may well be worth it for certain niches. We’d just recommend against only publishing with them.

Other Resources

Those are the free options. There are paid services such as Bookbaby or Smashwords that can help you avail yourself of all of those services, while also offering support in the form of editing, design, promotion, etc. This article offers a comprehensive comparative of those services.

We would advise extreme caution when getting involved in any such paid services. The two mentioned above seem to have a decent reputation, but predatory services exist and will suck you dry. Bottom line: to such services, you — not the readers — are the customer. So, they’re going to get the most profit possible out of you, regardless of whether you sell any books.

That’s not to say paid services can’t be useful! Technical details abound that most authors should get help for (like covers, for example, and internal text formatting). Just be sure to read the fine print and don’t let yourself get scammed.

During our research, we came across ALLi, a self-publishing advice blog. Their site is worth reviewing for more easy-to-understand information about how self-publishing works.

We hope this helps allay some of the mystery of self-publishing and gives you some tools to get started once you’re ready to actually publish. At Rigney Graphics, we have experience setting books up in the formats that these services need, and designing for best results on each platform. Let us help you achieve your self-publishing dream!


Rigney Graphics is a Pasadena graphic arts company that can help you create an impact with design and marketing solutions for print and web.