1. Identify why you’re self-publishing
Your reasons for self-publishing will affect both your writing and final product. A book of family recipes, for example, may not take much time or skill to write. A definitive biography, on the other hand, may take months, more likely years, to research and write. Either way, you will need to examine your motives to determine if you are up to the task.
But that’s just the beginning. You also need to determine what you want your end result to be. Is your goal to reach a small, select readership, such as family members or friends? to promote your products or services to potential customers? to reach best-sellerhood? These, too, will affect your writing—and the look of your book. The more ambitious and wide-reaching your project, the more professional its appearance must be.
2. Determine your format
Once you know why you’re self-publishing and what your final product will be, you are ready to consider format.
When most people think of self-publishing, they think of the hard- and softcover books they find in bookstores. You have numerous other choices, however.
You can comb- or coil bind your book, or tuck pages into a binder. These formats work well when creating training manuals and workbooks should you need pages to lie flat. You can also tape bind or saddle-stitch your publication, particularly if it is a of a limited number of pages. Depending on the length of your manuscript, one option may prove more economical than another.
To help you make format choices, find samples of books that are similar to the one you want to publish. Note their layout and cover design, paper stock and photos, screens and drawings, if any. These are the samples you should bring to a printer so you can get an estimate of what your project will cost.
3. Consult a printer
Printers can’t give you estimates without knowing the parameters of a project. That’s why you want to give them your specs (specifications) or a sample book they can work off of. Specifications include things like quantity, page count, type of paper, the number of colors on the cover and inside pages, how the project will arrive (hard copy, PDF, hard copy, etc.) and where it will be delivered upon completion.
Based on this information, the printer will prepare a quote, but don’t expect it to be etched in stone, for rare is the project that doesn’t change in some way. Nonetheless, this figure will give you a sense of what you will have to pay to publish your book.
To bring costs down, ask the printer for any and all money-saving ideas. You might also want to rethink your book’s format. Perhaps you can reduce your print run or page count, or opt for a softcover. You might also want to consider a different paper stock or two-color cover.
Because printing costs can vary widely from one printer to the next, consult two to three printers to get their ballpark figures. These figures will help you determine a per-unit-cost for your book and thereby your cover price.
Be aware that prices, services and quality differ from printer to printer. Note, too, that printers usually have their specialties: small runs, large runs, hardcovers, softcovers, etc. Try to match your project with their respective strengths.
You might also want to locate printers that do print-on-demand books, which enable you to run off as few as 50, 10 or even singles copies of your book. Depending on your quantities, your per-book-cost will likely be higher, although your initial expenditure may be considerably lower. Ask printers if they have this capability.
4. Choose a designer
That designer may be a professional or nonprofessional, namely you. Whatever the case, design decisions need to be made fairly early in the writing/publishing process. This allows you to anticipate and plan for printing expenses. Too, it will help you write to fit your design, rather than the other way around, which can be more expensive.
Don’t assume you can design your book as well as any designer could; these people are highly skilled and experienced. That doesn’t mean, however, that you’re out of the running or can’t assume responsibility for certain tasks (e.g., flowing text into a professionally designed template). Much depends on your abilities and what you want your publication to look like. With the help of the desktopping program you’re using, you may well be able to create the look you want. If not, you may need to call in a top gun.
As with a printer, you must choose a graphic designer carefully. For tips on how to do so, refer to my article “How to Choose—and Work with—a Graphic Designer”.
5. Preplan your promotional/distribution campaign
You need not book your appearance on Oprah yet, but you should give at least some thought to what you will do with your books once they roll off the press.
Your plans have financial implications. You might opt to distribute free copies, conduct a mailing, take out an ad or launch a Web site or public relations campaign (any or all of which might require professional assistance). You might decide to hit the road and sell your book via public speaking appearances, in which case you’ll have to factor in travel expenses. You might need to hire an accountant or fulfillment service to help you process book orders and track your inventory.
I bring these issues up not to hinder but to help you create a strategic plan for achieving your self-publishing goals. Anticipate each and every expense you can and you greatly limit the number of unpleasant surprises you may encounter.
As with self-publishing, book promotion takes many shapes, far too many to go into detail here. Know that you have many choices, many of which require little time, money and energy, thanks in no small part to the Internet. I suggest you visit the WriteDirections.com bookstore for titles that will greatly support your promotional efforts. There you’ll also find books on the nitty gritty of self-publishing in general.